China explores using tech for national security without invading privacy
Apps launched by local regulators to encourage the public to report illegal activities would allow citizens to conveniently take part in social governance, according to Chinese experts, who refuted reports that such apps would increase domestic disputes.
"Some local governments have developed apps for reporting violations, which is a way for residents to conduct social supervision. There are similar online platforms in other countries and they provide convenience for people in the mobile internet era," Fang Xingdong, the founder of technology think tank ChinaLabs, told the Global Times on Tuesday.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that the Chinese government is using new technology to reward citizens for notifying authorities about illegal activities, which is a part of the government effort to "meld old-school totalitarian techniques with 21st-century e-commerce, big data, and digital surveillance."
The report noted the app "Safe Zhejiang," which was launched in East China's Zhejiang Province, enables users to notify authorities of problems ranging from leaky drains and domestic disputes to traffic violations. The report said Chinese balk at using these apps to snitch on their neighbors.
Qin An, a cybersecurity expert at the China Institute for Innovation and Development Strategy, told the Global Times that promoting online tip-off platforms is part of efforts to encourage people to get involved in social governance, including governance on cyberspace.
"Public involvement could help enhance the governance system and capability. We can also all participate in the administration and discussion of State and social affairs. These moves have achieved some effect in society," Qin said.
Shanghai launched the app "Shanghai Police Officer" in 2016 for residents to report traffic violations by taking photos at the scene. More than 7,500 people reported 20,000 violations in four months, which effectively maintained traffic order, Jiefang Daily reported.
Qin also noted that instead of asking people to snitch on each other, the online tip-offs aim to solve social problems as people who want to report violations need to register their real information and those who report false information would be punished.
"It is also nonsense to say the tips would increase domestic disputes. The reports of violations would unveil social problems and urge people to behave themselves, which could be regarded as social progress," said Qin.
In response to criticism on China strengthening State surveillance, Fang said that "some Western media bear prejudice toward China's efforts on supervising illegal activities and activities which could threaten national security."
The People's Liberation Army (PLA) launched an online platform for people to report violations and false information involved with the PLA, including online activities related to theft or leakage of confidential information and people who spread scandals to defame the PLA.
"China is still exploring the boundaries of using technology to protect national security without invading individual's privacy," Fang said.