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China is forcing bus drivers to wear emotion-tracking bracelets, here’s why

Bus drivers in Beijing, China have been told to wear wristbands that monitor their emotions, according to recent reports. Already—and understandably—the new measures have raised privacy concerns among some legal experts who have since warned about the increasingly broad surveillance of citizens in the country.

As reported by the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the state-run Beijing Public Transport Holding Group claimed that the electronic bracelets were necessary to protect public safety.

So far, around 1,800 trackers have already been distributed to long-distance bus drivers. One can only imagine that more are coming.

The wristbands are reportedly able to monitor a wearer’s vital signs in real-time, such as heart rate and blood oxygen level, as well as their sleep stats and overall emotional state. Worryingly, no further details were given about the wearable tech and exactly what will be done with the collected data of the drivers.

“Providing a tracking bracelet is a way of applying technology to strengthen the management of the physical and mental health of drivers,” Beijing Public Transport said in a social media post following a test of the wearable in June 2022, as first reported by The Independent.

More than 40,000 operational drivers have already been tested for “psychological suitability,” while Beijing Public Transport also plans to introduce 5,000 sets of recognition systems that monitor for “abnormal behaviour.”

According to a 2022 research study conducted by Tooltester, which looked at the most heavily surveilled places around the world by calculating the number of CCTV cameras per citizen and the number of attempts by governments to gain their citizens’ personal data from Google, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter, China was crowned as the top contender on the list.

The country has more CCTV than anywhere else in the world. “With over one camera for every citizen in its major cities, it’s almost impossible to go unnoticed here,” Tooltester’s website reads. “Online life is no different, with Facebook, Twitter and Google forbidden, personal data requests from the government to these platforms are low. Citizens are made to use a tightly moderated government social media site where everything is monitored,” it continued.

Chinese citizens are also subjected to a social credit system that rewards and punishes people based on their economic and personal behaviour. People with a positive credit score receive fast-tracked approval for government services. Meanwhile, those with a poor social credit score can often experience reduced employment prospects and even be denied travel on public transport.

It was only in June that reports claiming the police in China were buying technology that harnesses vast surveillance data to predict crime and protests before they happen surfaced. The systems in question were said to target potential troublemakers in the eyes of an algorithm and the Chinese authorities—including not only citizens with a criminal past but also vulnerable groups like ethnic minorities, migrant workers, people with a history of mental illness and those diagnosed with HIV.

Although the country’s surveillance state has recently hit rare resistance from its own subjects, there are few mechanisms in place to hold Chinese government agencies responsible for their own data mining. And sadly for many citizens, that lack of recourse has contributed to a sense of resignation.

China sentences US citizen to death

A Chinese court sentenced American citizen Shadeed Abdulmateen to death on Thursday 21 April for allegedly murdering his former girlfriend, a 21-year-old Chinese woman surnamed Chen, according to Chinese state media.

After a disagreement over their breakup in June 2019, Abdulmateen, who taught at the Ningbo University of Technology (NBUT), arranged to meet and talk with Chen at a bus stop in Ningbo, Zhejiang province, before killing her with a “folding knife,” said the Ningbo Intermediate People’s Court in its verdict.

According to CNN, by looking at public broadcaster CCTV, the court held that the defendant’s “premeditated revenge killing, stabbing and cutting Chen’s face and neck several times, resulting in her death, was motivated by vile motives, resolute intent and cruel means, and the circumstances of the crime were particularly bad and the consequences particularly serious, and should be punished according to law.”

As reported by Yahoo! News, a US State Department official said the situation was being monitored but refused to comment further in the interest of privacy.

In a 2020 review conducted by Amnesty International, China was found to be the world’s top executioner, but the country, itself, doesn’t actually disclose death penalty numbers. The review used information including official figures, judgements and media reports, alongside information from families and civil societies, in its findings.

Agnes Callamard, the secretary-general of Amnesty International, said in a statement at the time: “As the world focused on finding ways to protect lives from COVID-19, several governments showed a disturbing determination to resort to the death penalty and execute people no matter what.”

“The death penalty is an abhorrent punishment and pursuing executions in the middle of a pandemic further highlights its inherent cruelty,” Callamard continued.

Over the past decade, people from Uganda, South Korea, Japan and Kenya have received death sentences for drug crimes. In 2016, the Nigerian senate reportedly heard that 120 of its citizens were on death row in China. And in 2019, China handed down a death sentence to a Canadian citizen accused of smuggling drugs, sending shockwaves around the world.