Mao Zedong wrote, “The people have sharp eyes.” The phrase incited people to spy on their neighbors and loved ones during the Cultural Revolution. In 2015, that slogan was resurrected for Sharp Eyes, an aggressive government surveillance program designed to reinstitute the social monitoring that eased after economic liberalization eroded traditional means of control. In 2019, China Digital Times published a three-part series on Sharp Eyes: “Surveilling The Surveillers,” “Sharp Eyes Project Map,” and “Shandong to Xinjiang.” The Sharp Eyes program, concluded report authors Joshua Rudolph and Dahlia Peterson, “is an attempt to combine advanced surveillance technologies with tried-and-tested methods of crowd-sourced monitoring harkening back to the Mao era…[that could] potentially be used to infringe on individual privacy and to persecute dissent in China.” […]
In an October report for Georgetown’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology, Dahlia Peterson explained how programs such as Sharp Eyes have been adopted and transformed by public security bureaus in Xinjiang to create the Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJOP). Through extensive monitoring of phones, vehicles, and ID cards, the IJOP “treats many ordinary and lawful activities—such as using WhatsApp or VPNs, driving a car that is not theirs, or using “too much” electricity—as inherently suspicious.” An ASPI report published this summer detailed how such electronic surveillance is also paired with a forensic DNA database in Xinjiang.
Read the full article on China Digital Times.