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Privacy and Worsening Canada-China Tensions

Ludovic Rembert
Last Updated on November 23, 2020s
Privacy and Worsening Canada-China Tensions

Just a little under two weeks ago, we reported on China exporting its surveillance infrastructure. This obviously causes a large problem for a large swath of people across the globe, including Canadian citizens, due to the increasing global authority that China seems to be getting. Not only that, but we don’t really know how the data acquired will be used and who has access to it, and relying on an authoritarian country like China to not misuse it is a recipe for disaster.

This issue has been further expanded by a recent diplomatic spat between Canada and China, with China warning Canada over recent statements about Uyghur Muslims. To bring you up to speed, there have been reports in the past year that China is carrying out a religiously-motivated genocide against the Uyghur. Photos and information related to Uyghur internment camps and work prisons have been making the rounds recently.

More specifically, the Canadian House of Commons subcommittee on international human rights recently said that it “is persuaded that the actions of the Chinese Communist Party constitute genocide.” We’re talking the whole nine yards here with forced sterilization of women, destruction of mosques, and indoctrination centers. So all in all, pretty bad.

Of course, Beijing did not stay silent, and Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said that the committee was introducing “malicious rumour to hype up so-called genocide in Xinjiang.” He further urged Canadians to “avoid doing any further damage to China-Canada relations.”

EU Acquired Chinese Tech Linked to Muslim Internment Camps

All of this is occurring during a major hit to public privacy and security, as the EU recently has made moves to acquire Chinese surveillance technology. In fact, the company that is providing this tech, Hikvision, has been linked to the oppression happening to Uyghur and other Muslim minorities in China. Having its European base in the Netherlands, the company has not been sanctioned or blacklisted.

So what is this tech that the EU bought? Well, it is essentially thermal imaging cameras that are used to detect the temperature of people. This is ostensibly used to help fight the spread of Covid by assessing if people are potentially sick. While that is certainly something worth doing, the context of the matter is problematic.

Worryingly, a Jan 2020 report found that Hikvision signed up to 5 security and surveillance contracts in 2017 with the Chinese government worth $273 million. This included things like surveillance in internment camps, 35,000 cameras to monitor schools, streets, and offices, as well as installation of facial recognition cameras at 967 mosques. So essentially a robust public surveillance contract.

Ironically our southern neighbors blacklisted Hikvision in 2019 with the Trump administration saying that the company has been “implicated in the implementation of China’s campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention and high-technology surveillance against Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other members of Muslim minority groups.”

Long Term Effects on Privacy and Security

So where does this put us all moving forward?

Well, the first thing to consider is the long-term effects that Chinese conglomerates will have on both security and privacy. In the case of Hikvision, the thermal imaging devices may very well be the first step in one of many by the EU to purchase more and more surveillance technology. The fact that the EU parliament has not blacklisted or otherwise called out China on its invasive surveillance is certainly not a great sign.

Then there are the issues to consider in terms of how this affects Canada. For example, Canadian MPs have been urging world leaders for a long time now to take China’s creeping dominance on the world stage much more seriously. It could even be argued that the main reasons China is able to get away with so much, is because they have a dominant position on the world stage that nobody wants to question.

Finally, there is the question of how all this affects the average Canadian citizen. Hopefully, the government’s stance against China and what it perceives as problematic diplomacy will be a barrier to any Chinese surveillance on Canadian land. This may very well not be the case for Canadians living outside of Canada though.

In fact, when the Hong Kong protests were going on (and they still are), China’s ambassador to Canada seemed to make veiled threats against Hong-Kong based Canadians if Canada offered asylum. The ambassador said:

“If the Canadian side really cares about the stability and prosperity in Hong Kong, and really cares about the good health and safety of those 300,000 Canadian passport holders in Hong Kong, and a large number of Canadian companies operating in Hong Kong, you should support those efforts to fight violent crimes.”

As you can see, it’s quite problematic when a country like China can make somewhat open threats against Canadian citizens outside of Canada. It could also lead one to believe that they are already carrying out some form of surveillance against Canadian citizens. In fact, two Canadian citizens were arrested during the protests for ‘inciting violence’, and has led some to speculate that the arrests were carried out as retaliation.

Privacy and Security in the Modern Age

So as you can see, there are certainly many problems facing both Canadians and global citizens around the world when it comes to their security and privacy. Sadly, aside from governments taking the matter seriously, there’s very little the average citizen can do but vote. We also suggest following our online privacy guide to getting you started on your own security, as well as getting yourself a strong VPN.

Either way, make sure to take care of your security and privacy, as well as the security of your kids. Keeping safe can definitely be something you can take into your own hands.

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