Carding the Chinese

I read a story in yesterday's New York Times about how China is working with an American-financed company to install 20,000 surveillance cameras in southern China, and that the same company is also working with the Chinese government to issue new identity cards to people living in Shenzhen, which have powerful computer chips that will tell the government anything and everything about the person: Not just name and address, but also religion, ethnicity, education and work history, police record, and even personal reproductive history (in order to facilitate the government's "one child" policy). There are plans to add even more, including credit histories and other financial information.

The article notes that some human rights groups claim that all of this (and the surveillance cameras in wide use in Great Britain) is a violation of the right to privacy put forth in the "International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights." I laughed when I read that part. Such "International Covenants" are only useful for lining birdcages or as emergency toilet paper. The civil rights that we enjoy in America come not from any international covenant, but from the U.S. Constitution. The next time you see the blue-helmeted United Nations forces parachuting into a country to force its government to adhere to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights will be the first time.

I was a bit nonplussed to see that an American-financed company is creating the tools that can potentially be used by the Chinese government to suppress dissent. Is it immoral to create computer software and high-tech identity cards for tracking people, when you know that the software will be sold to a totalitarian government to oppress its people? Vladimir Lenin famously said that the capitalists would sell the communists the rope that would be used to hang the capitalists. Some things never change.