Government intervention, evolving technology, and the quest to end terrorism
updated on Dec. 19, 2020
This article from 2013 is focusing on the “internet surveillance” in China. I used Wu Hongfei’s case to show how “tolerate” the Chinese authority is in terms of freedom of speech. A totalitarian regime is always neurotic, it fears of its people, not only of their uprising or protest, but it is also extremely nervous of people’s satirical statement, the so-called “black comedy”, “black or gallows humour”.The concept of black humour suits good to the Chinese language.Based on the characteristic of it’s pictogram, there are a huge amount of homophone in Chinese, it provides endless possibility to play around the homophone words. Shown in the article, the word “bombing” has the same pronunciation with “frying”. Ms. Wu is not necessarily a political minded person, but she is clever enough to provoke the authority with little jokes to attract public attention.
Nowadays, the electronic technology in China has made such a “big leap forward”, that artificial intelligence, big data, facial recognition, robot are applied by the authority to keep the whole country under surveillance, to “safeguard our fatherland”, that is to say, in official mouthpiece.
This summer, a wheelchair-bound paraplegic man named Ji Zhongxing tried to detonate a homemade bomb at the Beijing Airport to draw government attention to his claims of police brutality. But before he was ready, the bomb exploded, severely injuring his hand.
It is possible that this story is what inspired Wu Hongfei, a writer and rock band singer, to post some explosive statements on her Weibo page. On July 21, just one day after Ji’s explosion, Wu Hongfei wrote, “I want to bomb (“zha”) The Neighborhood Committee of Beijing’s Talent Exchange Centre. I want to bomb the damn Construction Committee too. I don’t know what the CC is or what it does, but I am sure there are only idiots there. All friends of the CC are black sheep to me.”
The Chinese verb “zha” means both “to bomb” and “to fry.” Just hours later, Wu deleted her comments and posted, “I want to fry (“zha”) the chicken wings, french fries, and steamed bread at McDonald’s, which is next door to the Neighborhood Committee of Beijing’s Talent Exchange Centre.”
However it was too late: this adolescent-like grumbling touched a nerve in the authorities. Five days later, Wu was arrested and spent eight days in a detention center. Many, including Wu, believe that she may be sentenced to years in prison. The police action has alarmed the public, causing some of people to ask: Isn’t this a typical intervention of freedom of speech?
The incident triggered a hot discussion online In China, a fear-monger can be sentenced to up to five years in prison. Fortunately, Wu Hongfei was released on August 2, and the original accusation leveled against her, “fabricating terrorist information” was adjusted to a “crime of affray.” Wu showed regret during her time in the detention center and promised that, in the future, she would concentrate her energy solely on music.
It might seem that the authorities showed leniency in dealing with Wu’s case, but their strategy has an intended message. Taking Wu’s case as an example, all insubordinate citizens should learn: Don’t be cheeky, even verbally.
Wu is a restless girl, a typical product of metropolitan China. After graduating from Qinghua University, she drifted and found work as a teacher, bar girl, singer, writer, and editor, among other jobs. She is good at giving her books eye-catching titles, such as An Apple that Wants to Become an Orange, Lovelorn Diary, and If You’re Not Falling in Love, You Will Get Old. Last year she published a collection of jokes called A Chinese Girl Who Tells Dirty Jokes.
To some extent, the books reflect her criticism of abnormal phenomena in society. Like artist Ai Weiwei, she ridicules and challenges authority with morbid and grotesque humor, although some of her writings could be called exhibitionist.
No one is surprised that China’s totalitarian internet surveillance caused trouble for Wu Hongfei. What is really shocking is what is happening in free countries, like the United States.
What happened to Michele Catalano and her husband in New York state is unexpected. Michele googled the words “pressure cooker” and her husband had searched “backpack”. Most likely, their young son was curious about “pressure cooker bombs” and decided to explore them online. This family’s web activity captured police attention. Six agents from the “joint terrorism task force” came to their house and interviewed Mr. Catalano. The police were suspicious of the couple because their Google searches resembled those of the Boston Marathon bombers, whose attack in April claimed three lives.
After Edward Snowden exposed the NSA’s spying and surveillance of American citizens in a stated attempt to detect terrorism, the Catalano story proves that privacy is compromised and freedom of information is not guaranteed even in a “free” country like the United States. Why did the police know who is doing what kind of research online? Who is reading our emails and monitoring where we are surfing the web? The big brother has truly materialized in the “free” Western hemisphere. What a horrible thought! Where is the line between public and state security and personal privacy?
In comparison with the technology of the United States, China’s internet police are still rather primitive. However technology is rushing forward like a wild horse while political and social ethics lag behind, meaning that the invisible hand of the authorities is everywhere. Do we truly need an almighty government to protect us from terrorism? I think not.
First published at Sampsoniaway.org on August 15, 2013
One Comment on “Internet Surveillance, a Visible and Invisible Hand”
James Smith August 15, 2013 at 7:31 pm · It isn’t as if any rational person still believes the USA is a free country, either. Think about it. No-warrant wire taps, indefinite detention of citizens without charges, approval of rendition of prisoners and torture, stop and frisk without probable cause, search and seizure without a warrant, no-knock entry, confiscation and destruction of cameras that might have been used to film police acting illegally, police brutality, police shootings that go without investigation, managed news, and the civil-rights destroying “Patriot” Act. Acts of police behaving illegally, with shootings, Tasers, and unwarranted violence now appear almost daily. Rarely are these offenses punished. Most often “an investigation” is claimed, but soon forgotten. In addition, the USA, with 5% of the world population, has 25% of all of the prisoners in the world. That means the USA has the most people in prison of any nation in history. Even by percentage of residents incarcerated, not just sheer numbers. USA is # 1!Does any of that sound like a free country? As Dwight D. Eisenhower said about communism, “It’s like slicing sausage. First they out off a small slice. That isn’t worth fighting over. Then they take another small slice that isn’t worth fighting over. Then another and another. Finally, all you have left is the string and that isn’t worth fighting over, either.