The appeal of Chinese ‘digital authoritarianism’ for Latin America

Does Venezuela exert “social control” via an identification system based on Chinese technology?

Concern that Chinese technology in Venezuela and Cuba, which allows states to exert “social control” over their populations via the internet and digital ID systems – something that one of the sources, the advocacy group American Freedom House, calls it “digital authoritarianism”, is featured by Voice of America online in a summary of reports and coverage.

Venezuela’s identity system, the Carnet de la Patria or Homeland Card, was established on ZTE’s Chinese technology in 2016 and is accused of collecting so much data about its users, including whether they voted, that it is considered a form of “citizen control”. ‘ and even the exclusion of people identified as part of the opposition.

Last year, ZTE was identified as too great a national security risk to the United States for companies there to use its technology.

The ID card is not mandatory but is used to access government services and social assistance and acts as a digital wallet that has enabled incentives such as the purchase of gasoline at subsidized prices, reports Latin American Post. It includes a QR code and is accepted as a voter ID card and an estimated 17 million Venezuelans have one in 2018, according to the newspaper.

Government officials from Venezuela were traveling to China as early as 2002 to learn how Beijing is using technology to surveil Chinese citizens. More recently, the relationship has shifted to cover technology and technical support to enable the Venezuelan government to process the data it collects and monitor people under its jurisdiction.

A source claims that alongside camera surveillance, there are biometric fingerprint, facial recognition and word algorithms. Venezuela pays varying levels of Chinese assistance up to “Ring 5” which is overseen by Chinese personnel. Daily reports are provided to President Nicolas Maduro’s government to inform decisions on censorship, internet shutdowns and even arrests.

VOA cites several US studies on Venezuela and a Reuters investigation into Venezuela’s Homeland Card, operated by state-owned telecommunications company CANTV, which reportedly has a ZTE team working within it. CANTV employees told Reuters they could monitor everything from biographical information to political party membership, state benefits received and whether they had voted.

A largely China-supplied social credit infrastructure market has recently been predicted for significant growth over the next three years.

Article topics

biometrics | China | Cuba | digital identification | digital identity | government services | identity management | Latin America | national identity card | Venezuela | ZTE

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