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Asia

Tracking Beijing

Beijing will soon be testing a new system for tracking mobile phone users. Officially, the project is about traffic congestion but rights groups think it’s an attempt to control the capital’s inhabitants.

The new system will be able to track all mobile phone users in the capital

The new system will be able to track all mobile phone users in the capital

It seems harmless enough at first. The new information system proposes to track the movements of millions of Beijing citizens. According to Li Guoguang, the deputy head of the city’s science and technology commission, the Platform for Citizen Movement Information will help decongest traffic.

But telecom experts don’t quite understand how tracking the mobile phones of 17 million inhabitants will help decongest traffic. One mobile phone user, who did not want to give his name for fear of reprisals, says, "I think this system is completely unnecessary, it will violate the private sphere of customers and citizens. It’s all about controlling citizens and social stability."

China Telecom is one of the major service providers

China Telecom is one of the major service providers

"Social stability"

For activists, dissidents and foreign journalists it already goes without saying that their movements are tracked, as are the people they meet and the places they stay, over the mobile phone network. But the new system will encompass millions of people. Moreover, human rights groups fear the authorities will use it to locate unusual gatherings of people and identify participants at protests.

Wang Songlian is from the Hong Kong-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders group and says, "I think you see an escalation of controls. And I think it is directly related to the worry of the government about the social unrest that seems to have come out of nowhere and also because of the role of new technologies in the revolutions of the Middle East."

Tracking system to start soon

The authorities have reassured people via the media that personal data will remain protected and will not be published.

The new tracking system is supposedly meant to decongest traffic

The new tracking system is supposedly meant to decongest traffic

But citizens do not feel reassured. Moreover, critics say the new system will violate Chinese law as only the public prosecution office has the power to order the monitoring of citizens.

The Beijing authorities have said they want to start testing the system in two of the city’s most inhabited districts before the summer.

Author: Ruth Kirchner (act)
Editor: Sarah Berning

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