Sky Net: Hunan’s video surveillance state

Never mind the smog that obscures the view from the cameras, China is pressing ahead with the construction of the most comprehensive and integrated surveillance of public space in the world. The latest report comes from Hunan province, where “26,022 cameras and 103 surveillance rooms” have been installed. What is particularly interesting, however is that the police intend to integrate “186,000 private cameras owned by residential communities, shopping malls and private enterprises” into the system. Whether this will be successful or not, given the vast differences in analog and digital systems and other compatibility and standards issues, is another matter, but few states have even tried to combine public and private video surveillance systems in this way.

Interestingly the case offered for the effectiveness of the system is as sparse as that to be found in the west, which is particularly strange given that it comes from the police themselves and they could have made it seem a lot more effective: apparently the cameras have “provided clues for more than 2,100 criminal cases” – or less than 1 for every ten cameras, and even more vaguely “has prevented and discouraged crime in some residential communities”. I’m sure that it’s worth the money to the state in terms of keeping a watch on political dissent and any sign of unofficial public politics however.

The punchline is the name of the system: “Sky Net”. Either the Hunan government are not great fans of the Terminator films, or they have a very highly developed and bleak sense of irony…