Surveillance in China and the US

15 Jul

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the nation’s terrorist watch list has hit one million names. What does that mean?

It means that these individuals on the list are affected whenever they travel overseas or into America. According to Barry Steinhardt, director of the Technology and Liberty Program of the rights group, in the press release, ‘Terrorist Watch List Hits One Million Names’,  the list ‘is a perfect symbol for what’s wrong with this administration’s approach to security: it’s unfair, out-of-control, a waste of resources, treats the rights of the innocent as an afterthought, and is a very real impediment in the lives of millions of travelers in this country’.

In the NGO’s website, it has also created a ‘Watch List Counter’, which lists some of those who are blacklisted. It includes prominent Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Nelson Mandela amongst other activists and politicians including Representative John Lewis and Senator Edward Kennedy. Even pop singer, Yusuf Islam has been blacklisted!

This blacklist is a reminder of the type of overzealous disregard for the privacy  and respect for human rights defenders which China practises, albeit, with a more draconian overkill. It keeps a close and constant watch on activists through various measures. Whilst some of them were beaten or detained, many were also harassed and told to keep their mouth shut. According to an Amnesty International recent factsheet on human rights defenders in China, the country’s ‘Criminal Procedure Law lists “residential surveillance” as one of a number of measure that may be used by the police against criminal suspects, in practice activists are rarely shown any official notice explaining the reasons for their detention, and periods often exceed the maximum limit of six months as prescribed by law.’

This is not discounting the Chinese government which also keeps a tight surveillance on the Internet. Not only does it block ‘undesirable websites’, it also prosecutes bloggers for posting human rights information. Certainly, all these evidence points to the existence of a ‘blacklist’.

The US government may choose to justify its compilation of names or wiretapping as a necessary  measure in its war on terror. Yet, all these procedures, as we all know,  is not dissimilar to what the authoritarian Chinese government is practising. To put it plainly, it is a harrassment tactic to instill fear in individuals and psychologically prevent them from speaking up.

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