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China wants to add tracking devices to all cars by 2019

A security camera looks down to survey the area. (Max Pixel/Released)
June 19, 2018

The Chinese government will soon launch a new program that requires all vehicles on the road to be outfitted with tracking devices.

A soft-launch of the program begins on July 1 with mandatory compliance beginning in 2019, the Wall Street Journal recently reported.

China’s Ministry of Public Security, a police agency, will implement the plan, which requires radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips be installed on a car’s windshield when it gets registered.

The RFID chip can then be read by devices set up along roadways to identify vehicles as they pass by.

That information would ultimately be sent to the Ministry of Public Security.

Chinese officials say the new policy will improve security and help ease traffic congestion, which contributes to the country’s ever-growing air pollution problem.

In 2014, the Traffic Management Research Institute called these issues “serious challenges and threats to social and economic lives, especially to public safety.”

However, many view the move as another addition to the country’s ever-growing surveillance of its people.

“It’s all happening in the backdrop of this pretty authoritarian government,” said Ben Green, a fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society. “It’s really hard to imagine that the primary use case is not law enforcement surveillance and other forms of social control.”

China’s current surveillance network includes widespread use of security cameras, facial recognition technology and internet monitoring.

While the RFID chips on the vehicles cannot be used to track its position in realtime, like GPS, the program would still allow the Chinese government to keep a close eye on the millions of cars traveling on China’s roads each day.

“It’s kind of like another tool in the toolbox for mass-surveillance,” said Maya Wang, China researcher at Human Rights Watch, who studies China’s surveillance programs. “To be able to track vehicles would definitely add substantial location details to the chain of data points that they already have.”

Chinese authorities already monitor vehicles through the use of video surveillance and license plate databases.

But experts say that implanting RFID technology would yield some more advantages.

RFID readers can function in foggy weather, and they also allow for faster information processing.

The RFID system can also obtain vehicle information even if fake license plates are used, a common tactic adopted by citizens trying to avoid vehicle zone restrictions.

The U.S. uses similar RFID technology for automated toll-road payments and commercial fleet vehicles. Casinos also have adopted the technology in recent years in order to ensure the legitimacy of higher denomination casino chips.