Report
Description

The combination of retreating US leadership and the COVID-19 pandemic has emboldened China to expand and promote its tech-enabled authoritarianism as world’s best practice. The pandemic has provided a proof of concept, demonstrating to the CCP that its technology with ‘Chinese characteristics’ works, and that surveillance on this scale and in an emergency is feasible and effective. With the CCP’s digital authoritarianism flourishing at home, Chinese-engineered digital surveillance and tracking systems are now being exported around the globe in line with China’s Cyber Superpower Strategy. China is attempting to set new norms in digital rights, privacy, and data collection, simultaneously suppressing dissent at home and promoting the CCP’s geo-strategic goals. The danger for other countries importing Chinese technological solutions is that it will result in a growing acceptance of mass surveillance, habituation to restrictions on liberties, and fewer checks on the collection and use of personal data by the state, even after the public health crisis subsides. Democratic governments need to be vigilant in setting standards and preserving citizens’ rights and liberties.

Key findings:

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has emboldened Beijing to expand its use of digital technologies in the name of public health and safety. From mass surveillance, tracking intelligence, and internet censorship to the use of social credit systems, augmented data-collection capabilities, and big data, China’s new normal exposes and expands encroachments on civil liberties.
  • The pandemic has provided a ‘proof of concept’, but China’s actions in the new digital landscape extend beyond managing its own pandemic response and controlling its own citizens. China is aggressively pursuing global technological dominance by investing in its indigenous tech sector and exporting technological surveillance tools.
  • The reach of Chinese-engineered and monitored social control systems has wide-ranging implications, with current pandemic conditions serving as the justification for a significant increase in state surveillance, the adoption of digital authoritarian tools, and the deterioration of privacy and civil liberties.
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