The allure of Chinese ‘digital authoritarianism’ for Latin America
Concern that Chinese technology in Venezuela and Cuba which is allowing the states to exercise ‘social control’ over their populations via the internet and digital ID systems – what one of the sources, U.S. advocacy group Freedom House, calls ‘digital authoritarianism’ is presented 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 Chinese technology from ZTE in 2016 and is accused of collecting so much data on its users, including whether they have voted, that it is considered a form of ‘citizen control’ and even exclusion against those identified as being part of the opposition.
ZTE was identified as too much of a risk to U.S. national security for businesses in that country to use its technology last year.
The ID card is not compulsory but is used to access government services and welfare and acts as a digital wallet that has allowed incentives such as the purchase of gasoline at subsidized prices, reports Latin American Post. It includes a QR code and is accepted as voter ID and 17 million Venezuelans were estimated to have one in 2018, according to the newspaper.
Government officials from Venezuela were visiting China as long ago as 2002 to learn how Beijing uses technology to monitor 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 of concern.
A source says that alongside camera surveillance, there are fingerprint biometrics, facial recognition, and word algorithms. Venezuela is paying varying levels of Chinese assistance up to ‘Ring 5’ which is overseen by Chinese personnel. Daily reports are provided to the government of President Nicolas Maduro to inform decisions on censorship, internet shutdowns and even arrests.
VOA cites multiple U.S.-based studies into Venezuela and a Reuters investigation into Venezuela’s Homeland Card, managed by state telecommunications company CANTV, which allegedly has a team from ZTE working within it. Reuters was told by CANTV employees that they can monitor everything from biographic information to political party membership, state benefits received and whether they voted.
A largely Chinese-supplied social credit infrastructure market was recently forecast for major growth over the next three years.