Just under three years ago, Techdirt wrote about China’s plan to install satnav tracking devices on vehicles in Xinjiang. That was just one of several early signs of the human rights abuses happening there. Today, people are finally waking up to the fact that the indigenous turkic-speaking Uyghur population is subject to some of the harshest oppression anywhere on the planet. Tracking huge numbers of vehicles might seem to be a typically over-the-top, money-no-object Chinese approach to total surveillance. Unfortunately, there are signs the idea is starting to spread, as this story in RFID Journal explains:
Egypt’s Ministry of Interior (MOI) plans to identify millions of vehicles as they travel on the country’s roads, using an RFID solution from Go+, with hardware and software provided by Kathrein Solutions in cooperation with Wireless Dynamics. The system, which will be implemented across approximately 10 million of the country’s vehicles throughout the next five years, consists of passive UHF RFID stickers attached to each car’s windshield, as well as tags on headlamps that respond to interrogation from readers installed above roadways, even at high speeds.
One justification for the move is to provide information on traffic flows. Another is to identify drivers who have been found guilty of traffic violations, and who should therefore not be on the roads. But plans to send all the data to a cloud-based data center will create a database that will eventually track every vehicle in the country. That will clearly be an invaluable resource for the country’s police and security forces, which unfortunately seem to take China’s approach to anyone who voices opposition to the authorities. Here’s what Human Rights Watch wrote in its most recent report on the country:
Since President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi secured a second term in a largely unfree and unfair presidential election in March, his security forces have escalated a campaign of intimidation, violence, and arrests against political opponents, civil society activists, and many others who have simply voiced mild criticism of the government. The Egyptian government and state media have framed this repression under the guise of combating terrorism, and al-Sisi has increasingly invoked terrorism and the country’s state of emergency law to silence peaceful activists.
As well as the negative impact on human rights in Egypt, there is another troubling aspect to this move. According to the RFID Journal article, the company providing the new system, Go+, is “in discussions with four other countries about the possibility of implementing this solution once the Egyptian system is fully deployed.” China’s mass tracking of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang using satnav devices pioneered the idea of carrying out vehicle surveillance on a hitherto unseen scale, regardless of the cost. Egypt’s use of the much cheaper RFID trackers represents a worrying evolution of the idea. If the roll-out is successful, it could encourage other governments to adopt a similar approach, to the detriment of civil liberties in those countries.
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