Super Cities №27 — Security and Data: The State and Private Industry

Brendan Hart

One Big Thing

China’s Tech Giants Have a Second Job: Helping Beijing Spy on Its People

Companies including Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. , Tencent Holdings Ltd. and Baidu Inc., are required to help China’s government hunt down criminal suspects and silence political dissent. Their technology is also being used to create cities wired for surveillance.


Everyone loves the benefits of the internet, but most people I know don’t want their personal data shared without active knowledge or consent.

In the United States, the industry-government data debate has been burning hot for years. Can the government collect personal data? On citizens, or only non-citizens? What responsibility do technology companies have to users, and what if any obligation do they have to government law enforcement or intelligence?

American industry and government — recently Apple and Department of Justice — are often on two sides of this constantly shifting, often blurred line.

China’s state capitalism system doesn’t have this tension. The state directly owns or influences industry, and, as Jack Ma recently said, business leaders accept responsibility for cooperating as necessary: “The political and legal system of the future is inseparable from the internet, inseparable from big data.”

Foreign policy scholars have long debated the right balance of government and industry, a conversation that is picking up speed as technology and geopolitics become more deeply entangled.

Ian Bremmer, a well-respected American commentator, was recently declarative:

“Today China’s political and economic system is better equipped and perhaps even more sustainable than the American model, which has dominated the international system since the end of World War II.”

I’m less convinced than Bremmer, but regardless of the system, the government-industry relationship is fundamentally changing. I think we’re in for decades-long turbulence.

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