Josh Chin: The Emerging Surveillance State

Shaping Opinion

Sep 26 2022 • 1 hr 7 mins

Wall Street Journal Deputy Bureau Chief for China and author Josh Chin joins Tim to talk about his new book he co-authored with fellow WSJ journalist Liza Lin. It’s called “Surveillance State: Inside China’s Quest to Launch a New Era of Social Control.” Josh tells about how China has led the way into a new era of mass surveillance on a scale the world has never seen. And it’s not limited to China. The idea of an authoritarian state spying on its citizens is nothing new. Many are alive today who can still remember the secret police of East Germany and their middle of the night raids. There are even a few who still remember the Nazis. And of course, the Soviet Union had its KGB. In these countries, spies could be anywhere, and on top of that, you could never be entirely sure you could completely trust some friends or family. But the difference between totalitarian governments of the past and the ones emerging today centers on people. You just don’t need as many, or sometimes any, if you’re a totalitarian regime who wants to spy on your people to control them. You don’t need as many of those secret police or snitches to get the information you want. Today, the difference is, in a word, technology. And nowhere is this more evident than in China. Josh Chin wrote a book that we will talk about today, and in it, he says that by the start of 2020 – by the start of the pandemic – there were almost 350 million cameras installed on Chinese streets, in public squares, in subway stations and around buildings. There were more than 840 million smartphones throughout the country in the purses and pockets of individuals. Each collecting and transmitting data on its user back to a central database. Organizing it to create a profile on the behaviors of each person. In China, mobile payment systems log millions of transactions every day, and send that data back into the system, further completing the state’s picture of each individual. For Chinese citizens, where you go, what you do, what you buy, the questions you ask search engines, all of it paints a mosaic of you for the authoritarian government. That profile is so full of data, so full of analysis, that the artificial intelligence platforms that follow you, may know you better than you know yourself in some respects. And perhaps even more chilling, the predictive analytics built into these platforms are quite effective at predicting what you will do next. Machines that learn, not shadowy spies, can now listen, see and even think on an entirely new level. Harvesting data. And judging you. Imagine the power that would give an authoritarian government. Well, you don’t have to, it’s here. It’s the power of Big Brother from George Orwell’s prescient book, “1984.” But Josh Chin thinks there’s another book that may have been even more prophetic. It was written in Russia just over 100 years ago, and it’s called simply, “We.” Links Surveillance State: Inside China's Quest to Launch a New Era of Social Control, by Josh Chin and Liza Lin (Barnes & Noble) Two Faces of China's Surveillance State, Wall Street Journal Josh Chin's Website About this Episode’s Guest Josh Chin Josh Chin is an award-winning journalist and author who has spent almost two decades documenting the rise of China, mostly for The Wall Street Journal. Josh was hired by the Journal to cover the Beijing Olympics as a freelance video journalist in 2008. He later joined the paper full time to run its China blog, China Real Time, which covered the country's development in every facet, from the delightful to the deadly serious. He switched to reporting on Chinese politics in 2013, covering Xi Jinping's crackdown on dissent, the activities of Chinese military hackers, and China's race to build technologies of the future. In 2017, Josh teamed up with fellow Journal reporter Liza Lin and other colleagu...