While Chongqing's surveillance program has stoked particular controversy due to the participation of Western technology firms, it is far from unique: more than ten million security cameras are estimated to have been installed around China last year. Beijing police have ordered an expansion of video surveillance in private business premises, mirroring the recently mandated installation of monitoring software on public wifi networks. Still missing, however, are legal safeguards governing the cameras' use. From The Guardian:
In May, Shanghai announced that a team of 4,000 monitor its surveillance feeds to ensure round-the-clock coverage. The south-western municipality of Chongqing has announced plans to add 200,000 cameras by 2014 because "310,000 digital eyes are not enough".
Urumqi, which saw vicious ethnic violence in 2009, installed 17,000 high-definition, riot-proof cameras last year to ensure "seamless" surveillance. Fast-developing Inner Mongolia plans to have 400,000 units by 2012. In the city of Changsha, the Furong district alone reportedly has 40,000 – one for every 10 inhabitants ….
Nicholas Bequelin, Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch, said: "Whereas surveillance cameras are problematic even in democratic societies, there are important counterweights, such as independent courts, privacy statutes, rules about how long the information can be kept and through what legal procedures it can be accessed, as well as independent media and NGO watchdogs.
"None of these safeguards exist in China, raising the very real prospect of an Orwellian society - one in which citizens are monitored in permanence, including in their private life."