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Beijing's Spy in the Cab

August 8, 2008

August 4, 2008

Taxis in Beijing and other Chinese cities get high-tech security and
surveillance equipment, including live microphones capable of
transmitting audio from within the vehicle to a central monitoring station.

A taxi driver has a drink inside his vehicle while waiting for
passengers along a Beijing street, 18 April 2007.

HONG KONG -- Beijing's thousands of taxicabs are being fitted with
video cameras and satellite technology that transmits a live audio
feed of what is being said in the cab back to a computer for
monitoring and linguistic analysis, according to industry sources.

"It was about two or three months ago. All the taxis in our company
had this fitted," an employee at a major Beijing cab company said.
"There is a screen which displayes the exact location of the vehicle.
The taxi is also able to send information back to us at the control
station. All the taxis registered with us have had the modifications."

She said the new equipment could be used in "dangerous situations" or
emergencies requiring police intervention.

"In the case of any danger, the cabs are all fitted with cameras. I
think it's on the right-hand side of the cab, above the passenger, to
the right. That camera is constantly switched on," she said.

"We can't see the video back at the control station but we can do
audio surveillance. The GPS signal enables us to hear whatever is
happening on board the cab," the employee said.

"It's all computerized. If anything happens in the cab it will show
up on the screen. If anything happens that needs reporting to the
police there are people who are hired just to do surveillance. There
are more than 100 of them," she added. "Those are people who are just
hired to monitor the in-cab microphones. There are even more of us to
control and dispatch the cars."

Photos too

Taxis in China are being fitted with video cameras and satellite
technology transmitting a live audio feed of what is being said in
the cab back to a monitoring computer. Graphic: RFA

Official media have reported that cameras and satellite systems have
been fitted in taxicabs in other major cities in China, including the
far-west Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, sparking complaints in
the press over privacy.

In some cities, the cameras automatically take at least one picture
of every occupant as a back-up in case of later criminal activity,
according to the official Communist Party People's Daily news Web site.

According to Fireeyes, a Beijing-based company selling GPS technology
to the transportation industry, the Beijing Olympics has provided the
biggest boost to Chinese sales of GPS (global positioning) products.

"Before 2008 the Beijing authorities will have spent a total of 1.9
billion yuan (U.S.$278 million) to install GPS tracking systems on
all of the city's 10,000 buses," the company said in a statement on
its Web site.

"It also has a budget of 680 million yuan (U.S.$99 million) to
complete its installation in the city's taxi-cabs, so a central
monitoring station will know the precise location of every individual
cab at all times," the company said.

Safety cited

Official media say the cameras in taxis are aimed at guaranteeing the
safety of drivers, who suffered an unprecedented number of attacks
across the country in 2003. Industry literature emphasizes the
convenience of being able to dial a cab from one's cellphone and have
it sent direct to one's location using GPS navigation.

Meanwhile, China's foreign ministry spokesman denied claims from U.S.
Senator Sam Brownback that Chinese hotels had been ordered to monitor
Internet browsing patterns among foreign guests during the Olympics.

"The relevant accusation is unfair," Liu Jianchao told a regular news
briefing Thursday. "An individual's privacy is respected and
guaranteed in China."

"We do not go beyond normal security measures and relevant security
practices and measures that are commonly employed in the
international arena, whether in hotels or in other public places."

Authorities in Beijing have already installed thousands of hidden
cameras throughout the city to "help authorities keep watch for
illegal activity," the People's Daily said.

More than 100,000 police and paramilitary troops have been deployed
throughout the city, while surface-to-air missiles have been deployed
to guard some Olympic venues. Security guards are now manning every
station on the capital's extensive subway system ahead of the opening
ceremony on Aug. 8, checking all bags carried onto trains by passengers.

The Greek authorities spent an estimated U.S.$1.3 billion on security
measures for the 2004 Games in Athens, a budget which China expects to exceed.

Taking advice from the United Kingdom, which has one of the highest
saturations of closed-circuit security cameras in the world, the
Athens authorities also constructed a vast computer surveillance
network capable of analyzing dozens of languages and facial recognition.

At least 45,000 security personnel were drafted into the "Shield of
Hercules" security operation.

Original reporting in Cantonese by Ho Shan. Cantonese service
director: Shiny Li. Translated and written for the Web in English by
Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.
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