While drones have begun to raise suspicion of growing authoritarian government practices in the West, China is light years ahead, already implementing drone technology into citizen surveillance efforts. Their newest drone technology, codenamed “Dove,” is designed to look like an innocent bird in the sky, according to CNET.
Song Bifeng, a professor at Northwestern Polytechnical University in Xi’an and former senior scientist on the Chengdu J-20, Asia’s first fifth-generation stealth fighter jet, is in charge of the project, designing a drone equipped with a pair of crank-rockers driven by an electric motor to mimic a real bird’s flapping wings, a high-definition camera, GPS antenna, flight control system and a data link with satellite communication capability.
Another member of the team, Yang Wenqing, claims that “Dove” is still only being used on a small scale, but that researchers “believe the technology has good potential for large-scale use in the future … it has some unique advantages to meet the demand for drones in the military and civilian sectors.”
The technology is primarily being implemented in provinces that the Chinese government believes are potentially unruly and restless. “Although the bird drones will likely be deployed in restive provinces like Xinjiang, any Chinese person should assume that their behavior could be under surveillance and their behavior recorded, no matter where they go outdoors,” said Timothy R. Heath, senior international defense research analyst at global policy think tank The RAND Corporation. “China’s use of bird drones will extend the government’s surveillance to a frightening new level.”
Heath claims this new drone project threatens to be “a new level of intrusiveness,” though China is certainly not new to the surveillance game. Already keeping a close eye on its 1.4 billion citizens using facial recognition, artificial intelligence, and smart glasses, the Chinese government hopes to implement a “social credit score” system by 2020, in which citizens will be given a personal score that could affect their ability to fly or own property based on behaviors like jaywalking or buying Chinese-made goods.