Undemocratic Means: The Rise of the Surveillance State

  • Peter Lehr
Part of the Advanced Sciences and Technologies for Security Applications book series (ASTSA)


In Chap.  11, I already raised the ‘what if’ question regarding the imagined slippery slope from liberal democracies to more authoritarian and far less liberal or democratic states. In this chapter, I show where this ‘what if’ journey towards ever more safety and security could eventually lead by discussing the Chinese government’s current plans to roll out a ‘Social Credit Score’ system that assigns each Chinese citizen an individual ‘social score’ – a score that can go up and down depending on their action and how ‘trustworthy’ they are. I argue that this total surveillance goes for beyond ‘nudging’ as employed in Western democracies, but that for those who score high, it actually does not look like surveillance but like a game – hence, we basically witness the ‘gamification’ of social control. I then compare these developments to surveillance measures already existing in the West and conclude that we are actually not that far removed from China’s version of Huxley’s ‘Brave New World.’


Big data Smart CCTV Megvii Inc. Skynet Dragonfly eyes Nudging Gamification of social control Social credit system Total information awareness Data-mining Identification bias 

General Bibliography

  1. Adey P (2004) Surveillance at the airport: surveilling mobility/mobilising surveillance. Environ Plan 36(8):1365–1380 Scholar
  2. Amoore L, de Goede M (2008) Introduction: governing by risk in the war on terror. In: Amoore L, de Goode M (eds) Risk and the war on terror. Routledge, London/New York, pp 5–19Google Scholar
  3. BBC (2017c) In your face: China’s all-seeing state (video clip). BBC News China, 10 December.
  4. Bloomberg (2018) China uses facial recognition to fence in villagers in far west. Bloomberg News, 17 January.
  5. Botsman R (2017) Big data meets big brother as China moves to rate its citizens. Wired, 21 October.
  6. Brühl J (2018) Ist das ein Befehl oder eine Bitte? Sueddeutsche Zeitung, 14 March.
  7. Brühl J, Tanriverdi H (2017) Der überwachte Mensch zensiert sich selbst. Sueddeutsche Zeitung, 30 December.
  8. Chakya K (2014) Face-recognition software: is this the end of anonymity for all of us? The Independent, 23 April.
  9. Chen LY (2017a) China, Russia put millions in this startup to recognize your face. Bloomberg, 31 October.
  10. Chen S (2017b) This film is made entirely with surveillance footage. Quartz, 30 October.
  11. Denyer S (2016) China wants to give all of its citizens a score – and their rating could affect every area of their lives. The Independent, 22 October.
  12. Dymek M, Zackariasson P (eds) (2017) The business of gamification: a critical analysis. Routledge, London/New YorkGoogle Scholar
  13. Ganor B (2005) The counter-terrorism puzzle: a guide for decision makers. Transaction, New Brunswick/LondonGoogle Scholar
  14. Hatton C (2015) China ‘social credit’: Beijing sets up huge system. BBC News China, 26 October.
  15. Homer-Dixon T (2009) The rise of complex terrorism. Foreign Policy. 16 November.
  16. Introna L, Wood D (2004) Picturing algorithmic surveillance: the politics of facial recognition systems. Surveillance & Society 2(2/3):177–198
  17. Lewis R (2017) Under surveillance: being watched in modern America. University of Texas Press, AustinGoogle Scholar
  18. Moon M (2016) New York will use facial recognition to catch terrorists. Engadget, 10 July.
  19. Osborne S (2015) China has made obedience to the state a game. The Independent, 22 December. Scholar
  20. Sorkin M (2004) Urban warfare: a tour of the battlefield. In: Graham S (ed) Cities, war, and terrorism. Towards an urban geopolitics. Blackwell, Malden/Oxford, pp 251–262CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Sparke M (2008) Fast capitalism/slow terror: cushy cosmopolitanism and its extraordinary others. In: Amoore L, de Goode M (eds) Risk and the war on terror. Routledge, London/New York, pp 133–157Google Scholar
  22. Strittmatter K (2018) Absolute Kontrolle. Sueddeutsche Zeitung, 1 February.
  23. Sunstein CR (2014) Nudging: a very short guide. In: Digital access to scholarship at Harvard Scholar
  24. The Economist (2017) Even better and cheaper, face-recognition technology is spreading. De Economist, 9 September.

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter Lehr
    • 1
  1. 1.CSTPV, School of International RelationsUniversity of St. AndrewsSt AndrewsUK

Personalised recommendations