Data Leviathan: China’s Burgeoning Surveillance State

Ken Roth and Maya Wang in the New York Review of Books:

Classical totalitarianism, in which the state controls all institutions and most aspects of public life, largely died with the Soviet Union, apart from a few holdouts such as North Korea. The Chinese Communist Party retained a state monopoly in the political realm but allowed a significant private economy to flourish. Yet today, in Xinjiang, a region in Chinas northwest, a new totalitarianism is emerging—one built not on state ownership of enterprises or property but on the states intrusive collection and analysis of information about the people there. Xinjiang shows us what a surveillance state looks like under a government that brooks no dissent and seeks to preclude the ability to fight back. And it demonstrates the power of personal information as a tool of social control.

Xinjiang covers 16 percent of Chinas landmass but includes only a tiny fraction of its population—22 million people, roughly 13 million of whom are Uighur and other Turkic Muslims, out of nearly 1.4 billion people in China. Hardly lax about security anywhere in the country, the Chinese government is especially preoccupied with it in Xinjiang, justifying the resulting repression as a fight against the Three Evils” of separatism, terrorism, and extremism.

Yet far from targeting bona fide criminals, Beijings actions in Xinjiang have been extraordinarily indiscriminate. As is now generally known, Chinese authorities have detained one million or more Turkic Muslims for political re-education.

More here.