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China’s ‘Sharp Eyes Project’ Serves as Warning to Free World About Pandemic Surveillance

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) continues to roll out its “Sharp Eyes Project” facial recognition technology in an attempt to cement its increasingly tenuous grip on power over the world’s largest and oldest country. 

In mid-January, Dajiyuan, the Chinese-language edition of The Epoch Times, received leaked documents from mainland China issued by the “work leadership group for public security video monitoring construction and networking” in Liuhe District, Nanjing city, Jiangsu Province. The documents show how the Nanjing government installed facial recognition in 2017 to monitor citizens. 

Dajiyuan said the documents used a Party-jargon heavy rhetorical basis about initiating “the three defenses” and sought to surveil “near province- and city-level highways; district-level roads; and core governmental zones, transportation hubs, hospitals, squares, and communities… Pedestrians should be videotaped every 10, 20, and 30 minutes, according to the document.

“When a resident of Anxi village in the Sichuan province of China set a match to a small pile of garbage in the gutter two years ago, a loudspeaker blared out his name and address and ordered him to extinguish the blaze immediately. He jumped with fright, quickly put out the flames and scurried away.”

In another leaked document, Chinese police issued a report celebrating their “achievements” in implementing the so-called Sharp Eyes Project (雪亮 “Xue Liang,” translating literally to “Bright as Snow”), a surveillance program designed to persecute rural civilians. The Party justifies the program under the pretext of fighting crime more effectively. 

“According to the report, the project successfully recognized 1,158 photos of various local ‘key targets.’ The system identified more than 60 targets for its local ‘Domestic Security’ and more than 10 people accused of crimes. China’s Domestic Security Bureau offices make up a secret police force tasked with neutralizing individuals that the Communist Party deems to be political threats,” said Dajiyuan.

In a report by Bitter Winter on the Sharp Eyes Project, a local in Xian City, Shaanxi Province described how living under technocratic totalitarianism feels: “The CCP is already monitoring us in our homes, what privacy do we have left? It’s like we’ve all got ropes around our necks and are being led on leashes. We’re all living under a microscope, and it’s terrifying.”

The Sharp Eyes Project. (Image: by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay)

A 2018 article by Los Angeles Times illustrated a real-world anecdote of living under the Party’s omniscience: “When a resident of Anxi village in the Sichuan province of China set a match to a small pile of garbage in the gutter two years ago, a loudspeaker blared out his name and address and ordered him to extinguish the blaze immediately. He jumped with fright, quickly put out the flames and scurried away.”

“Everyone knew who the culprit was, so he would never dare to do that again,” boasted Communist Party Secretary Yin Xiuqin smugly. According to the article: “Fear of public shaming is the essence of Sharp Eyes.” 

A 2018 article by Radio Free Asia (RFA) is particularly prescient in warning North Americans of things to come if they allow their democracy to degenerate into technocracy under the excuse of combatting the SARS-CoV-2 novel coronavirus pandemic. 

“The internet and our smartphones have been under government surveillance for a long time already,” an anonymous Chinese internet user told RFA. “A friend of mine in Anhui is under surveillance, and he tried to buy a plane ticket to go overseas, but he couldn’t leave the country… We can be placed under restriction or persecuted by them, or asked to ‘drink tea,’ [with state security police], or placed under surveillance, at any time…Overall, it feels as if we’re not free at all.”

The article also describes the troubling implications of a perpetually monitored “social credit” system: “Under a pilot social credit scheme, people who are considered to be ‘troublemakers’ by the authorities, including those who have tried fare-dodging, smoked on public transport, caused trouble on commercial flights or ‘spread false information’ online will now be prevented from buying train tickets, the government announced earlier this month.”

“Employers who fail to pay social insurance or people who have failed to pay fines will also be on the restricted list,” says the article. 

The Party can link up its surveillance cameras with any ‘smart’ device in the home, especially those with cameras, resulting in 24/7 monitoring whether you’re at home or outside. (Image: by Stafford Green from Pixabay)

The article boasted that the Chinese state-run enterprise that created Sharp Eyes, the aptly-named Bell New Vision Co., was happy to report the Party could link up its surveillance cameras with any “smart” device in the home, especially those with cameras, resulting in 24/7 monitoring whether you’re at home or outside. 

Biometric Update reported that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA)-connected Hikvision was awarded a $33 million contract to install cameras in Shanghe.

Hikvision was added to a Pentagon blacklist by the Trump Administration for being owned and/or controlled by the PLA. A series of Executive Orders by the outgoing President blocked U.S. based companies from doing business with or holding securities in PLA-connected companies. 

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  • Neil lives in Canada and writes about society and politics.

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