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    New York Times: In Restive Chinese Area, Cameras Keep Watch

    The New  York Times reports on video surveillance in Urumqi, China:

    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. [...]

    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. [...]

    But China also has another overriding concern — controlling social order and monitoring dissent. And some human rights advocates say they fear that the melding of ever improving digital technologies and the absence of legal restraints on surveillance raise the specter of genuinely Orwellian control over society.

    Video software can already spot a chosen automobile in a stream of traffic by reading license plates, and cameras have improved so greatly that some can even take clear pictures of people inside autos. Facial-recognition software is in its infancy, but already, China requires Internet cafe users to be photographed, so that computers can identify them no matter which cafe they patronize, and what identification they present. [...]

    The video cameras in China’s Internet cafes are required to be linked to government security offices. Guangdong Province, in southeast China, last year ordered hotels, guesthouses, hospitals and places of entertainment to install cameras in all main rooms and reception areas, joining museums and galleries, schools, newspapers and television stations on a growing list.

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