China citizen database proposal is nothing radically new

A Chinese official proposed the creation of a database of every citizen in China, reports The New York Times. Zhou Yongkang, a former head of the Public Security Bureau Ministry, “said the system should be based on the resident identity cards issued to every Chinese citizen, and should include such details as each person’s tax record and history of education and employment, as well as what property and vehicles he or she owns,” according to the Times.

My first thought was that this sounds a lot like the “Golden Shield” project proposed as part of early rhetoric on e-government in China. I looked up my master’s thesis, and found that Golden Shield, one of the “Twelve Golden Projects,” would (according to me, citing others): “Increase police capacity and efficiency in public security. Some involvement with online censorship efforts.”

Then I went back to a 2003 article on china.com.cn, which names e-government projects: “two networks, one portal, four databases, and twelve golden projects.” Lo and behold, a population database is part of the plan.

There very well may be something new here in Zhou’s statement. This is just to note that keeping better track of people for security reasons has been on the government agenda since a key 2003 state council document that outlined the Chinese government’s 信息化, or “informatization” efforts.

So, in my opinion, this is one more in the line of non-news headlines on Chinese authoritarianism. Sure, keeping track of people has consequences. But it’s not surprising or even especially new.

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