HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE CONTEMPORARY DIGITAL ERA AND CHINA'S TECHNO-AUTHORITARIANISM

Introduction

Technology has become an indispensable part of everyday life, it has become an instrument of encroachments, repression and is shaping power, politics and with-it businesses and every other arena of human life. Just this month, Swedish fashion giant, H&M is facing severe backlash and boycott because it raised concern over the condition of the Uighurs (a minority Muslim community) in Xinjiang province of China. In recent times, advancements in technology has adversely impacted democratic ideals, with an unwavering contribution of the governments towards the same, one such government is that of the People’s Republic of China. This article shall focus mainly on two of its biggest programs, namely, The Mass Surveillance Program and The Big Data Program to establish the extent of infringement of international laws.

China: The State of Mass Surveillance

Mass-surveillance system collects every individual’s information in order to monitor their activities and label them as socially good or bad. Through this system of surveillance, government has access to daily activities of an individual with the help of more than 200 million cameras along with their impeccable facial recognition technology. Through the social credit system, Chinese officials rank the citizens on their behavior and anything below a score of 1000 can cost them their travel tickets, education of their children apart from the humiliation of this record being publicly displayed. These scores gauge citizens’ compliance to what the State sees as desirable, therefore, if you are unproductive and play video games or post any political opinion or even drink alcohol, your score drops but if you do certain good deeds such as, donate, your score increases. While this might seem like the creation of a conducive and efficient society which can lower the exposure to crime considerably, it is also deeply problematic.

- By the virtue of Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), any government is restricted from carrying out arbitrary interferences to a person’s privacy. Under ambitious projects like the Police Cloud, China has developed a cloud computing technology that stores and analyzes information of its citizens. Ministry of Public Security of China in association with the tech giants seeks to fetch data of everyday activities of people and their association with others to gauge trends of ‘abnormal activity’. The system is made more effective by the data being assembled into a database operating at provincial levels. Article 12 of the UDHR protects the Chinese citizens from such arbitrary interference and since extension of policing to ordinary citizens is plausibly with an intent to locate suspicious activities, the citizens are shielded by this Article from any resultant attack on them alleging abnormal behavior.

- Recently, China prepared its own Data Security Law; it’s first of its kind and a comprehensive legislation that aims to secure citizens’ personal information. It’s an attempt to devise a hierarchical structure of data and places stringent punishments for those tech giants that prove to be irresponsible with the sensitive information provided to them with consent and hence commit breach of informational privacy. The efficacy and implementation of this law can only be known once it comes into force but as of now China lacks proper provisions that align with the vision of Article 17 of the ICCPR which restricts States from misusing private information of the citizens and as a signatory to the ICCPR, there is an obligation on China to not commit any act that ultimately defeats the purpose of the treaty.

- Article 19 of the ICCPR guarantees everyone the freedom to express and hold opinions. The right vested with the citizens to express their opinions through the platforms of social media is now curbed by the State as they sponsor all major social media platforms. The social credit system punishes these citizens for expressing an opinion that is not in conformity with what the ruling Communist Party would want to hear. Raising concerns over this surveillance reality has led to the disappearance of many journalists. Some of them have been imprisoned on dubious grounds, Zhang Zhan, a journalist has been imprisoned for ‘provoking trouble’ and other critics like Cheng Quishi and Fang Bin have simply disappeared.

The Big Data Program

A list of detainees from the Aksu prefecture made rounds recently, just some time after a Karakax list surfaced, reinforcing the view of the Big Data program, a way through which the authorities are policing and arbitrarily detaining Turkish Muslim minorities of the Xinjiang province. Chinese government policies have led to extreme repression of this community. Forced sterilization camps, regular crackdown in their area, rape and other forms of torture and now sending them off to ‘political education’ camps is what we’re looking at when it comes to 2021 China. China’s policies to dwindle a cultural minority constitute some of the crimes against humanity and fundamental human rights violations penned in the international treaties that China is a party to.

- By the acts of the administration, it is evidently clear that cultural and religious dilution has risen. For example, removing mosques, altering the Muslim way of life and barring the community from following central tenets of the religion itself, all these acts not only invade the private sphere of religion but also deny them the right to self-determination(Article 1, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights) and the right to practice their thought, belief, conscience and religion (Article 18, UDHR). Instances of