China will soon be using artificial intelligence (AI) to bar unruly or uncivilised visitors from entering public spaces, such as parks, in Beijing. Using AI and facial recognition technology, the country plans to identify those who have previously engaged in misdemeanours. According to news reports, a list of such individuals will allow the Beijing Municipal Administration Center of Parks to curb bad tourist behaviour during events such as the three-day holidays around Tomb Sweeping Day, locally known as the Qingming Festival. During the recent celebrations, tourists were seen climbing trees, picking flowers and damaging plants, while some people reportedly went fishing in Beijing s lakes where the activity is regulated and others were seen hawking illegally in the parks. On the surface, Beijing s goal seems to be in the spirit of preventing unruly behaviour by citizens. But, given the country s record on curbing the many freedoms available to citizens in other countries, it is likely that unruly behaviour could just be the front. If defacing public property, climbing to a better vantage point, hawking/distributing, etc, gets unruly visitors barred from public areas, these can just as easily be extended to bar protests and protestors. Barring the offenders from public areas means ensuring that the options to congregate dwindle.
China is known to have strict surveillance and censorship. Its extensive surveillance of Xinjiang, a remote region in the west of the country, home to an ethnic minority population that is largely Muslim, is proof of how much control the government can have over the lives of its citizens. The February Xinjiang surveillance data reveal shone light on what data points are recorded by the Chinese government alongside people s names, dates of birth, places of employment, sex, home address, official identification card number, etc, there were notes on the places that they had most recently visited. AI-enabled policing may just mean further curbs on the civil freedoms the Chinese enjoy.