Under the Eye of ‘Skynet’

Group 31

Background

The Skynet Project, China’s national surveillance system, has deployed more than 170 million cameras in public spaces across the country, covering 1.4 billion people (1). It can monitor and distinguish vehicles and pedestrians at exact time. On the screen of the control panel, relevant information is marked next to the monitored target. The Skynet is playing a more and more important role in helping the police to safeguard the public area. However, the public is now showing special concern on the infringement of personal privacy.

A Brighter Future

One of BBC reporters John Sudworth has undergone a test on the performance of Skynet. He disguised himself as a criminal amid a street crowd. It took the police just seven minutes to locate and arrest him using its network of CCTV cameras and facial recognition technology (2). This explains how efficient the Skynet was in assisting the police. The criminals can be accurately identified in prompt response. In view of Utilitarianism which favours the action that will produce the greatest good for the greatest number, Skynet has made its path to stabilise the society. A more recent stream of research data reveals that the capital felony rate in 2019 has decreased by 42.7% (3) ever since Skynet system was implemented. If you look far into the media to see how the whole society is benefited from prevention of murder, robbery, rape and some other crimes, you will rest assured that the public safety is thus guaranteed, the government may gain more trust, respect and popular support so as to devote public efforts to boost the economy. As a result, the citizens will enjoy a safer civil environment.

The system of course brings about more benefits to the majority as far as emergency service is concerned. Skynet is used for replacing the human search work and immediate reaction to the accident at a blink of eye. Once an accident occurs and requires rescues, such as fire, people missing or traffic accidents, it can quickly determine the location and save much precious time get onto the site to save. Therefore, it is evident that the system generates more pleasure in the case of emergency. It also agrees with the Equality postulate as part of the Kantian theory, by giving everyone equality to be saved. The system will not be affected by gender, race or wealth what so ever. It only focuses on whether people are encountering a life-threatening dilemma and how to offer them help.

Skynet has cast light on a modern society model in future, which is related to the personal credits. In the coming years, everyone will have his own credit scores. Should anyone violate certain rules or do anything against law, his credit score will be deducted accordingly by “Skynet”. For those with dismally low credit scores, he will be banned from participating in certain activities and be under scrutiny. What’s more, people are informed of what are the good behaviors that can add to their credits. This transparency of information creates better relationship between people and government, which totally conforms to Care Ethics. In this way, we can not only reduce the occurrence of criminal accidents, but also cultivate and improve citizens’ awareness of laws and regulations.

Figure1: The monitor Screen (1)

The Criticism

It is disturbing to learn that a vast 1.4 billion people are under the eye of government without consent. The key issue is forfeiting the right of privacy. As proposed by computer ethicist Johnson (4), privacy belongs to autonomy, a part of human’s intrinsic values. The sacrifice of privacy, in this case billions of ID and daily digital footprints, is intolerable. Hacking opens doors to horrible threat to public security. And what’s more, people are deprived of their right to make their own choices. The Reciprocity principle as part of the Kant’s Theory implies that people should be treated as ends, rather than means. The dogmatic implementation without revealing sufficient information of the system nor requesting people’s permission indicates that people are merely the means of the government and have no moral autonomy in making their choices, even if the system is in the name of ‘safety’. With all the sensitive data being extracted, people may live under 24-hour scrutiny and feel breathless out of panic.

Another privacy issue worth emphasizing is the further oppressing of minority group, like LGBT community in China. Young people are increasingly involved in such campaigns, but the major public voice is still against those activities. Traditional customs and public opinions are still impeding young generation on their path for individual freedom and it could be worse when they are monitored by Skynet. They don’t even have the private room to be who they truly are, so how can they stand out fighting for their rights? This is against the Freedom Principle, which states that people have every right to chase their own pleasure as long as they do not hinder the pleasure of others. LGBT is not the only case that is opposed by authority. Would you live in a society where the conservatives use technology to hinder such movements? It could be a giant leap backward.

The technology could give rise to the centralization of authority. Similar technology was first used in US. As a technical supervisor in CIA, Snowden was in charge of a secret project supervising citizens. Then he exposed all the threatening secrets he obtained during his monitor to public, acclaiming that the US government had been attacking other countries’ network in the past decade, stealing confidential information of military and economy (56). The leakage of trade secrets could lead to unfair competition. It was such a bomb that aroused people’s profound consideration on the misuse of cameras. The technology would go against Utilitarianism since more benefits belong to the smaller number of authorities, who could utilize the system to achieve political outcomes and ruling the majority of people.

Technology is always a double-edged sword. It remains debatable in Utilitarianism, that whether having lower crimes but much less privacy, is more of a pleasure, than having higher social instability but more privacy. Do we need to sacrifice all our privacy in order to bring the minor criminals to justice?

The Initial Decision

We are for this technology.

References

  1. Jacobs, H., (2018). China’s ‘Big Brother’ surveillance technology isn’t nearly as all-seeing as the government wants you to think [Online]. Business Insider. [Viewed 19 March 2019]. Available from: https://www.businessinsider.com/china-facial-recognition-limitations-2018-7?r=US&IR=T
  2. BBC News., (2017). China: “the world’s biggest camera surveillance network” [Online]. YouTube. [Viewed 19 March 2019]. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNf4-d6fDoY
  3. Max Roser, (2018), In Our World Data [Online], “Homicides”, [Viewed 20 March 2019]. Available from: https://ourworldindata.org/homicides
  4. Johnson, D., (2001). Computer Ethics. 3rd ed. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall.
  5. MacAskill, E. and Hern, A., (2018). Edward Snowden: ‘The people are still powerless, but now they’re aware’ [Online]. The Guardian. [Viewed 19 March 2019]. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/jun/04/edward-snowden-people-still-powerless-but-aware
  6. Courage Snowden., (no date). Political Interference [Online]. The Courage Foundation. [Viewed 19 March 2019]. Available from: https://edwardsnowden.com/zh/political-interference/

27 thoughts on “Under the Eye of ‘Skynet’

  1. Good essay and interesting topic! It shows clearly people what the mysterious “Skynet” really is and illustrates both the positive and negative voices from the outside in a comparatively objective way. It also reveals the reality that China is facing now, struggling between advanced technology and increasing respect for human rights. Glad to learn about this and really appreciate your nice project with your efforts.

    1. Excellent topic but a little bit sensetive for certain people because of the ‘big data’. It does make citizens safer but our pravicy is under exposure. Yes, the Skynet project would decrease the crime rate in China hopefully, it is going to be more convenient for police to track someone’s position. It is not that easy to put the whole Skynet in China because of the huge population and massive area, it should be put into more practice and see how it goes further.

  2. This is a lively and culturally wide-ranging article, particularly interesting in your attention to the China Skynet project and the development of big data. I am very much glad to hear both the future and the current problems about this project, which makes your research convincing, reliable, and full of alert and thoughtful responsiveness to high-tech and post-human conditions. Good to be aware of the balance between morality and modern technology, as you raised up at the end of the last part, which in return will help this project become more user-friendly and humanistic.

  3. Last month, a suspect was finally arrested in my hometown thanks to skynet. It is never able to imagine how enormous the criminal group is even under the present surveillance by skynet. However, no one will know where the system goes and whether its benefits overweight its shortcomings now or in the soon future.

  4. I know that this can be quite a sensitive issue which has great implications in the world, but this is my opinion on the matter.
    To begin with, the sheer scale of this is concerning. It would be great to know who exactly is in charge of such a system, and how they operate. In my opinion, no person (or even group of people) should have this much power. Being responsible of 1.4 billion people (while also treating them right) should be beyond the scope of any organisation, as it’s way beyond their capability. It doesn’t matter if it’s any local police force, or any American organisation such as the NSA or the CIA. And if you want to know whether it works or not, look at the latter two organisations, and see if they are doing a good job of it. People still commit crime, they just find better ways to do it, while circumventing the surveillance.
    Another problem with this is the authoritarian, top-down aspect of it. Whilst being a very good crime deterrent, it forces people to behave in a prescriptive way. Forcing people to behave in a certain way (under the threat of arrest or jail-time) – not only takes away their agency, but it also takes away from their development as people. When people are forced by the law to do the “right” thing, they wouldn’t really understand what is right and wrong. They would just act out of fear of the law.
    I’m only saying this because this system is implemented in a country which is not well known for respecting people’s choices or views, but instead is a regular violator of human rights. Here are some:
    https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2019/country-chapters/china-and-tibet
    https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2018/country-chapters/china-and-tibet
    https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-34592336
    https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/asia-and-the-pacific/china/report-china/
    Hopefully this won’t sound too cynical, but a government which consistently tries to give itself more and more power at the expense of its population probably won’t limit itself to simply helping law enforcement or emergency services. I’m not saying that this project is all evil, but that it’s very convenient in its overarching power. But taking care of people’s safety doesn’t mean you have to take away their privacy. So I know what you might think, that this is going to do more good than harm – I don’t think so.

    Personally I have great with this technology. In the end it’s JUST MY OPINION.
    I’d be happy to be proven wrong in any of my arguments too, so please let me know if you disagree with anything.

  5. I think the skynet project is a brilliant idea. Keep public areas under surveillance will definitely reduce the crime rate in the long term. Although some of the people might feel uncomfortable because they think they are being watched by others. But being a sane and law-obeying person like myself, I think they should embrace this idea. It is a perfect deterrence for those who think they can above the law and escape.

  6. I know that this can be quite a sensitive issue which has great implications in the world, but this is my opinion on the matter.
    To begin with, the sheer scale of this is concerning. It would be great to know who exactly is in charge of such a system, and how they operate. In my opinion, no person (or even group of people) should have this much power. Being responsible of 1.4 billion people (while also treating them right) should be beyond the scope of any organisation, as it’s way beyond their capability. It doesn’t matter if it’s any local police force, or any American organisation such as the NSA or the CIA. And if you want to know whether it works or not, look at the latter two organisations, and see if they are doing a good job of it. People still commit crime, they just find better ways to do it, while circumventing the surveillance.
    Another problem with this is the authoritarian, top-down aspect of it. Whilst being a very good crime deterrent, it forces people to behave in a prescriptive way. Forcing people to behave in a certain way (under the threat of arrest or jail-time) – not only takes away their agency, but it also takes away from their development as people. When people are forced by the law to do the “right” thing, they wouldn’t really understand what is right and wrong. They would just act out of fear of the law.
    I’m only saying this because this system is implemented in a country which is not well known for respecting people’s choices or views, but instead is a regular violator of human rights. Here are some:
    hrw.org/world-report/2019/country-chapters/china-and-tibet
    hrw.org/world-report/2018/country-chapters/china-and-tibet
    bbc.com/news/magazine-34592336
    amnesty.org/en/countries/asia-and-the-pacific/china/report-china/
    Hopefully this won’t sound too cynical, but a government which consistently tries to give itself more and more power at the expense of its population probably won’t limit itself to simply helping law enforcement or emergency services. I’m not saying that this project is all evil, but that it’s very convenient in its overarching power. But taking care of people’s safety doesn’t mean you have to take away their privacy. So I know what you might think, that this is going to do more good than harm – I don’t think so.
    Personally I have great with this technology. In the end it’s JUST MY OPINION.
    I’d be happy if anyone could prove me wrong in any of my arguments too, so please let me know if you disagree with anything.

  7. To some extent, the purpose of Skynet obtaining people’s privacy is to better serve the people, such as making it easier to find clues and solve cases which are against the people.
    Speak of violating privacy, I think it exist every moment in our daily life, such as installing cameras in public places, collecting fingerprints as well as allowing mobile phone using GPS.
    Things are the same in the real business world. Companies also use privacy of users such as their browse and purchase records to push accurate advertisements and make personalized recommendations. Some apps even started to take photos of users just in order to identify the user profile more efficiently via analyzing their outfits. Also, the “accept” button of cookies doesn’t really make sense, since the acceptance is compulsive in order to use some basic functions. (take gmail as an example)
    Big data is a process of violating privacy. The purpose of big data is to make people’s lives more convenient. Although the ultimate end is to make profits or to centralization, people benefit from the big data and the “violation” more or less. Thus, i think it’s not fair to argue that people are totally treated as means. Gains will lose. The convenience of life and the progress of civilization must be paid.

  8. This is a good essay discussing a huge project that has attracted the attention of the media in various countries. For public safety reasons, CCTV has been widely used in many countries, including developed and developing countries. Its combination with big data technology can effectively improve the efficiency of the police and combat various kinds of crime. The fact is that this system has greatly reduced the crime rate, improved public security, and improved people’s sense of security. Obviously, we have benefited a lot from it.

    It is true that it raises some concerns about personal privacy. But as a citizen, actions in public should be subject to either moral or legal constraints. Only now it is managed by the Skynet. It is more about restraining the behaviour of those who disrupt public order, social order, and even crime. For citizens who behave properly, I don’t think it will cause a lot of trouble. Of course, I think this technology should be used and managed reasonably because its abuse can have some serious consequences.

    As for the so-called human rights violations, this involves political issues and is not relevant to the technology discussed in this article. I just want to say that only the people of this country have the right to express their opinions on the human rights issues in their own country. In some countries flaunted by liberal democracy, human rights issues may not be good.

  9. This is a very interesting and sensitive topic. Skynet can help the police find criminals more quickly,providing citizens with a safer social environment. However, it violates the privacy of the citizens to a certain extent, because most people are under the eye of the government without their consent. Nonetheless, I think a large number people can understand because this is a measure to protect their personal safety. Perhaps the Government can make it public to the citizens and it will be more humane.

  10. Good critical thinking. Comment on both benefits and drawbacks of skynet. Sufficient examples are given, making your prospectives more convincing. The government regulated skynet has more advantages than disadvantages from my opinion, as long as they don’t leakage our private information to those who want to make a profit from it.

  11. You did mentioned my biggest concern, and that is the centralization of authority. The system could be politically motivated granting the authorities more power, and silencing the freedom of speech. Just if, one day, a certain group of activists has found evidence the government did something wrongly, the government has the power to turn innocent people into criminals. Their rights will be stripped off, their freedom of speech taken away, because the government wants to either silence or fabricate those opposing them. As of currently, I want to hope the SkyNet will never ever be used for this purpose with the Chinese government, however, the US government has proved otherwise. The double edge sword is very real.

  12. A clear-explained essay. Personally, the privacy of the public should be protected and the data or video shouldn’t be shared to short party by any means. If that is achieved, I really think Skynet would add value to people’s life.

  13. Very good thinking of the skynet system of both pros and cons. I would agree that the system can help the police find criminals much quicker, which is great regarding to public safety. And me personally is a fan of personal credit score.

    There IS possible risk though, that the privacy of individual may be offenced. As far as me thinking, the technology is great, it is just how people utilize it. If enough security measures are taken, the skynet would be a good step forward.

  14. it is a great essay about the most concerning issue nowadays–Privacy. I agree with the Skynet has those pros and cos to most extent. However, I do not think the Skynet is intruding most people’s private life. Since most Chinese do not have skynet in their bedroom and house and these place is where privacy should be located. citizens should not ask for too much privacy in public area— you can not punch someone and say that is none of others business. public area should be monitored and regulated so i think skynet does not threaten too much of the privacy. also the LGBT does not raise any sympathy for most people and it is not so much a privacy problem as a public attitude issue.

    So in my point of view, as the skynet is legal and under control, the benefit is weighted more than the bad side concerning privacy problems

  15. Similar to any new technology there is always a resistance to change what matters thought it what are the effects onto the society and what can be done about it. I have no room to assess whether the technology of Skynet will have a positive impact onto the society or not as time will show that. Also despite the various positive impacts mentioned in the article such as ‘capital felony rate in 2019 has decreased by 42.7% ’ most parameters can’t really be effectively measured such as the peoples satisfaction or the peoples true nature. Ideally the answer is that different laws and methods of enforcement suit some people better than others, in other words, the current technology may (or may not be) effective for the people (or some of the people) of China but it is certain that it doesn’t mean it suits people from different countries as each of us are raised differently and used to live by different laws.

  16. A well – organized article which makes a great contrast between privacy and safety. I am deeply touched and can not help but let me think about what the society we are living in will become, and whether the privacy of the citizens can be well protected. I think the surveillance programs are necessary measures against potential crimes, which can protect the greatest number of citizens and conform to utilitarianism. As the article presented that data collection bring huge positive impacts to the society also to the citizens, make their life much easier and more efficient. With the developing of the digital revolution, nowadays, People always inadvertently disclose personal information uncontrollably. Personally, it is worth to sacrifice part of privacy to identify the terrorists and protect public safety as long as the actions and detection are legal, though, people may have a sense of oppression when under a monitor.
    I have no doubt that surveillance system can be used and bring benefit to the society, but it should be managed effectively, and the legislation should limit it, otherwise, the harm it brings will be more significant than the benefits. The government should better manage the application of this data to protect the privacy of the citizens, promoting social development.

  17. I agree with the opinion that people should be protected from harm but not at the expense of their privacy. There are other more ‘moral’ ways to achieve a more peaceful place to live in, such as the education system. It is likely that the criminals are usually under-educated and lack income, and it is particularly severe in developing countries. Improving the education system to cultivate those people is a much more effective way.

  18. I think everything is relative.It is impossible for the Skynet system to monitor you at all times. It can be controlled between surveillance and human privacy.So its construction is good for people’s safety.However, when setting up Skynet, the government should first ask people for their opinions. This is the most basic right of people.

  19. In the current Big Data era, retailers focus on customers’ habits and need. For instance, Dayue Shopping mall in Shanghai set a camera on a pole in front of the mall, which shows that customers usually ignore the stores behind the pole. Thus, the supervisor made a hole in this pole, enticing children to explore this hole to a cave, and therefore leading customers to the stores behind the pole.

  20. Nike company launched a new products “Nike +”, which is a Nike runner shoes or bracelet+sensor”. Once a customer wears such Nike+ and starts jogging, his Ipad will store his running data, including time, distance, location, calorie burned and send such updated data to Facebook. His friends may comment and click an “applaud” button so that the runner can hear the applaud from friends amid the music. Accumulating the updated running routes, Nike thus has grasped the best and most popular running routes in the main cities. As a result, Nike has successfully established the largest global sport-neighborhood on the internet, and learn its customer habits to improve its products, to launch its new products accurately.

  21. In the era of AI, data economy emerges and booms meanwhile brings about the uprising infringement on data owned by enterprises. Let us take a look at a typical case of Dazhong Dianping v. Aibang Net Inc.
    Dazhong Dianping(Popular Comment), an internet company which provides food catering information to customers, and also a platform for customers to order restaurants and then comment on their food and service. Aibang (Willing to help) Net Inc. is also a company engaged in classifying and accumulating information on the net.
    The plaintiff discovered that the defendant, during its operation, was massively copying and abstracting the plaintiff’s client comments and food introduction, which has constituted unfair competition.
    The introduction of restaurants and customer comments were originally collected, accumulated and utilized, operated by the plaintiff to attract more customer registration. Therefore, the plaintiff has made great efforts in staffs, property and time management, and thus the profits therefrom should be under legal protection.
    Whereas the defendant has directly utilized technic means to display the plaintiff’s comments and introduction without any labor, cost or contribution, to obtain commercial profits, which definitely has breached unfair competition law. The infringing acts of the defendant has exceeded the scope of reasonable information use to such an extent that most customers of the plaintiff have been drawn to the defendant. Since more and more people switched to the defendant’s net, and the plaintiff was actually replaced by the defendant and has cause immense economic loss.
    Such infringement on trade information has constituted unfair competition.

  22. Early in July 2015, the Supervision of US FBI had noticed Hilary’s private emails might contain certain sensitive and confidential information from high-secret Skynet images and sensor system, relating to North Korean nuclear equipment. Thereafter, senior officials tackling “Freedom of Information Process” affairs confirmed that such private emails did conclude leakage of confidential photos and information. A staff member in US counsel had glanced over the confidential information and summarized the contents to send them to the Secretary of State- Hilary via email. This was the most serious loophole in the US State Security system, and thus brought about Hilary’s failure in her president election.
    Nonetheless, satellite data nowadays have seem the immense market potential in many fields. For example, using weather mapping based on satellite, a Dutch Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Co-operation (CTA) was designed to address multiple challenges by building a comprehensive picture of farmer’s problems rather than attempting to solve them one by one. CTA agents delivered location-specific advice to farmers on when to expect rain or dry spells. They also recommend ways to adjust their crop schedules and technique to prepare for the coming weather. Meanwhile, agents collected data from farmers about their historical yields, employee numbers, as well as sketches of their farmland using the Global Positioning System. The CTA took such information to the Rabobank, to gauge the farmer’s credit worthiness and agree to lend the program a big sum of money. The collective insight the database offered gave Rabobank the confidence to approve the loan.
    However, no matter how efficiency and profitable this project was, the service started out charging each farmer 14000 shillings per acre per season, which was already too expensive for many. “Data is a really hard sell”, said the head of a financial tech company. The potential buyers say there is a lot of data out there and are not willing to pay top dollar for it.
    While business may need convincing, farmers who have benefited from the data service say it is invaluable.

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