Tuesday, August 3, 2010

In Restive Chinese Area, Cameras Keep Watch

New York Times
August 3, 2010

For a street whose name suggests throwing off shackles, South Liberation Road doesn’t look like a very free place these days.

At the intersection with Shanxi Lane, a busy crossing in this northwest China metropolis, 11 surveillance cameras eye the bustle from a metal boom projecting over one corner. Still more cameras stare down from the other three corners — 39 in all, still-photo and high-resolution video.

“The whole city is under surveillance,” said one nearby shopkeeper who, like many here, refused to give his name. Asked why, he replied sourly, “It’s not my business.”

But it is no secret. Roughly a year ago, Urumqi’s ethnic Han and Uighur populations took part in the worst ethnic rioting in modern Chinese history, killing at least 197 people. The riots caught the Communist Party and the local government unaware.

Now at least 47,000 cameras scan Urumqi to ensure there are no more surprises. By year’s end, the state news media says, there will be 60,000.

Video surveillance is hardly uncommon in the West. But nowhere else is it growing as explosively as in China, where seven million cameras already watch streets, hotel lobbies, businesses and even mosques and monasteries — and where experts predict an additional 15 million cameras will sprout by 2014.

Much of the proliferation is driven by the same rationales as in Western nations: police forces stretched thin, rising crime, mushrooming traffic jams and the bureaucratic overkill that attends any mention of terrorism.