by DW Documentary
September 30, 2021

from DW Website

Italian version


China is building a huge digital surveillance system...


The state collects massive amounts of data from willing citizens: the benefits are practical, and people who play by the rules are rewarded.

Critics call it "the most ambitious Orwellian project in human history"...

China's digital surveillance system involves massive amounts of data being gathered by the state.

In the so-called "brain" of Shanghai, for example, authorities have an eye on everything...

On huge screens, they can switch to any of the approximately one million cameras, to find out who's falling asleep behind the wheel, or littering, or not following Coronavirus regulations.

"We want people to feel good here, to feel that the city is very safe," says Sheng Dandan, who helped design the "brain."

Surveys suggest that most Chinese citizens are inclined to see benefits as opposed to risks:

if algorithms can identify every citizen by their face, speech and even the way they walk, those breaking the law or behaving badly will have no chance.

It's incredibly convenient:

a smartphone can be used to accomplish just about any task, and playing by the rules leads to online discounts thanks to a social rating system...



That's what makes Big Data so attractive, and not just in China.



Where does the required data come from?


Who owns it, and who is allowed to use it...?

The choice facing the Western world is whether,

  • to engage with such technology at the expense of social values

  • or ignore it, allowing others around the world to set the rules...




Technological advancement has been quite beneficial to society in several ways, making it easier to navigate, communicate, and access goods and services.


Oftentimes, the benefits of the advancement of technology overshadow the negative aspects and its truly invasive nature.

China is one of the most technologically advanced societies and in its most high-tech areas, new technologies are embraced and even tested every day.


People are under continuous surveillance. Individuals are tracked carrying out the simplest of daily activities such as garbage disposal. For some, it makes them feel safe.

In any case, the question remains of what is being done with the massive amounts of data that is collected.


Recently, with the Covid-19 pandemic, the systems have ramped up surveillance in China, tracking down to the live locations of persons suspected to have contracted the virus.

The German version of the surveillance system is just a bit different.


The data is encrypted and stored locally on devices and interacts anonymously with other devices in the vicinity.


One aspect of the Chinese system is that it tracks suspected Covid cases and alerts authorities if the persons leave their buildings.


The Chinese government wants to go even further by creating an individual social ranking system.


It would accumulate data based on factors such as the payment of taxes, payment of loans, blood donation, and the dissemination of accurate information. Based on the data collected, points would also be allocated.

Germany is one country adopting a lot of Chinese technology.


The difference is that where Chinese citizens seem to have become desensitized to their data being captured, German citizens are hyper sensitive about their data collection and there is usually prompt public outcry whenever they sense their personal data is being collected and tracked.

Even persons who are fascinated with technology are reserved about its potential to violate individual privacy and freedoms.


Technology makes it very easy to organize and perpetuate the repression of very specific groups of people, especially if they live in a particular geographical area.

If technological advancement and its everyday impact interests you, then you will enjoy this doc.