China surveys the streets of New Jersey

Artist Lindsey Dearnley

A fascinating story broke yesterday. US law enforcement has been using Chinese-made drones to enforce coronavirus lockdown. Worry soon spread that Beijing could spy on American citizens. You’d think a Trump administration, known for its anti-Beijing stance, would chuckle at the proposal of such an idea. Surveillance and espionage is Beijing’s forte. Xi Jinping’s eyes haunt the lives of millions in communist China. They may now loom over thousands of Americans too. 

Da Jiang Innovations (DJI) made the drones that have gone to some 43 law enforcement agencies in 22 states. In New Jersey, police are using them to spy on citizens where patrol cars can’t go. State monitoring has become part and parcel of the coronavirus response; the West has sacrificed liberty for safety. Johnson’s cabinet is currently considering immunity passports – something we’d expect to see in a dystopian futurama flick or, in fact, China. 

The company, of course, denies any ulterior motive. Adam Lisberg, a spokesman for DJI Technology claimed, “Some people are trying to score ideological points by discouraging the use of important equipment and tools that save lives and protect America first responders”. Piffle, the spokesman seems to have forgotten the invention of helicopters. Not to mention drone manufacturers who aren’t in league with the Chinese state. There are plenty of avenues to carry out surveillance – not that they should be.  

DJI put out a statement declaring: “All DJI customers have complete control over any photos, videos and flight logs they generate during operations”. Insisting that no data can be transferred unless selected to do so. Except an expert with deep ties to the American intelligence community suggested otherwise – no one at DJI would be aware of data transferrals bar DJI’s founder Frank Wang and the Chinese government. Numerous intelligence officials recommended grounding DJI’s entire fleet pre-coronavirus. 

Could this be something of a Trojan horse? It follows a trend where Western countries buy up Chinese technologies and integrate them as part of their infrastructure. Huawei’s 5G network stirred up similar uncertainty when the government announced the Chinese firm would have access to 35 percent of the UK’s network. As did the rice grain-sized microchip that Chinese subcontractors installed while manufacturing servers for US-based Elemental Technologies. By law, Beijing controls and regulates the most profitable firms.

Our apparent affinity for Chinese technological components is troublesome. Not only does it make Western economies reliant on China, but it compromises their security. They are our ideological enemy – a society permeated by collectivism and authoritarianism. One which has also facilitated total economic disruption. The West cannot sacrifice its security for the sake of convenience – especially as it stumbles over the hurdles of jump-starting the economy. We must onshore and rebuilt for the long term. Much like coronavirus has taught us with medical supplies and apparatus. 

Once you know how a system works, you can abuse it. You learn its intricacies, functions and operations to better infiltrate and manipulate. The presence of any large Chinese company operating in the West is cause for concern. As Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz put it, “We should not be spied on by our government and giving information then to a foreign government that’s hostile”.

Privacy is a rare commodity in our day and age. If people thought our government’s program of mass surveillance was bad enough, surveillance by a hostile, foreign power will prove much worse. Certainly, it presents another warning to the West. It is time to become more self-reliant and trade with allies. I much prefer an eye in the sky which belongs to my own government than one that belongs to China – no matter the cost.  

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5 Comments on China surveys the streets of New Jersey

  1. The increased surveillance of ordinary people, and their communications is sinister. A philosophical change took place when large corporates consider it ‘legitimate’ to monitor the emails of their employees, something that would have been culturally unacceptable with the old system of internal post, and illegal for letters posted through the Royal Mail. Every van driver now has a tracker in his van, every town centre is full of spy cameras. China, run by its deeply unpleasant Communist party, adds another twist to surveillance both of its own people, with its system of grading people according to pastime, associates etc. No country should willingly invite Chinese involvement in their communications systems, for no good can possibly come from it. Sadly corporate greed, and a disdain for the concerns of the more thoughtful ordinary folk, means that there is an alliance between the global rich and the Chinese Communists.

    • >Sadly corporate greed, and a disdain for the concerns of the more thoughtful ordinary folk, means that there is an alliance between the global rich and the Chinese Communists.

      Spot on Raven. It was Western global elites and corporate leaders that went forum shopping globally for cheap, pliant labor and lax environmental and labor laws and then gave China all the West’s science and technology built up over centuries in the space of 25 years, egged on by the naive journalists at the FT (e.g. the professional sneerer Martin Wolf and his Why Globalization Works) and The Economist.

      For the rest of us, globalization s^cks.

      China can’t believe its luck.

      • Thank you China for keeping our bloated welfare bureaucracies afloat by providing us with everything we need at prices we can afford to pay! There must surely be a day of reasoning but let’s not worry about that just yet.

      • Sheilagh, you are right about The West’s elites handing over our science knowledge to China, they had no understanding of its worth. Since the route from research to profit, is both long and often unclear, the wealthy Western elites transfixed by the money markets, and corporate buyouts, took the short route to their own personal profit and sold their countries’ knowledge and the people who created that knowledge very cheaply.

  2. Beyond Huawei, hikvision and dahua are a couple of other chicom names to conjure with, the CCTV that phones home to the political university of East Shanghai