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Sharper Eyes

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“The People Have Sharp Eyes” (“群众的眼睛是雪亮的.”)

This Communist Party slogan was heavily used during the Cultural Revolution, an era in which citizens were incentivized to spy on and even falsely accuse family and neighbors of being disloyal to authority. More than 50 years after that tumultuous era began, the slogan has been reincarnated in an ambitious and highly invasive surveillance program called Sharp Eyes (雪亮工程), one of the newer additions to China’s increasingly omnipresent surveillance state. This rural-focused initiative marries cutting-edge technology with Mao-era, crowd-sourced efforts by encouraging residents to surveil public video feeds and report suspicious incidents using their TVs and mobile devices.

We aim to shed light on this surveillance program in particular because it has been overshadowed by other programs such as the social credit system and the use of facial recognition to shame rule-breakers. In addition, by extending surveillance into rural areas, the program demonstrates how expansive Beijing’s aims are: to create a truly omnipresent surveillance state.

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CDT's Sharper Eyes series

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