BEIJING -- China is using surveillance tools installed with the latest artificial intelligence software in a bid to clamp down on anti-government activism around Tuesday's 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown.
Questioning the one-party state's view that it responded appropriately to the student-led protests of 1989 is among the biggest taboos in China. Officials heighten scrutiny on anti-establishment elements every year around this time.
Authorities have installed security cameras around Beijing and Shanghai since last fall, and the footage is analyzed by the latest in AI. People can be identified not only by their faces, but also their physiques and even how they walk. An individual supposedly can be identified from dozens of meters away, even if the person's back is turned or face is covered.
China's "Great Firewall" is also busy, monitoring conversations on social media and other corners of the internet. As early as next year, China will roll out a social credit system that grades individuals based on their credit ratings, traffic violations and social contributions.
Those with a low social credit score will be restricted in their use of public transportation, and critics say a low score will harm an individual's chances of finding work.
"The surveillance is scary," said a male student at Peking University. "Even among friends, the Tiananmen Square incident can't be brought up."
Security cameras increasingly appear at street corners nationwide. These cameras reportedly numbered in the tens of millions in the early part of this decade, but the count has soared past 200 million, a source close to Chinese police said. The network could reach 600 million by 2020. By comparison, an estimated 50 million security cameras are installed in the U.S.
Beijing's surveillance state draws detractors abroad, who fault the system for infringing on human rights. Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology, China's biggest supplier of security systems, faces the prospect of restrictions on imports from the U.S. Hikvision's facial recognition cameras have been blamed for their role in keeping watch over the Uighurs in China's western Xinjiang region.
China has enhanced its surveillance system with an eye for any opposition to President Xi Jinping's consolidation of power. Xi's anti-corruption campaign has targeted numerous senior officials in the Communist Party. Freedom of speech is also being curtailed.
This activity has spurred resentment among many people. Last July, one woman live-streamed a video in which she threw ink on a poster of Xi while denouncing despotism. Around the same time, a Tsinghua University professor, Xu Zhangrun, wrote several essays critical of Xi. Those missives resulted in Xu being suspended from his position this year.