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Police surveillance cameras set up to monitor a dirt road intersection in western China. Photo: Ng Han Guan / AP

China's embrace of big data and surveillance technologies has the country well on its way to creating the most impressive surveillance state in history.

Why it's happening: The Chinese Communist Party needs help from private sector firms, and those firms in turn need to stay in political good graces to be successful.

Behind the scenes: The Wall Street Journal just published a months-long report on the role internet giants Alibaba and Tencent play in helping build the PRC panopticon. Much of these efforts can be used to improve governance and efficiency, but the dual-use potential for a police state increasingly resembles the movie "Minority Report." Per the WSJ:

  • "The political and legal system of the future is inseparable from the internet, inseparable from big data," Alibaba CEO Jack Ma told a Communist Party commission overseeing law enforcement last year. He said technology will soon make it possible to predict security threats. "Bad guys won't even be able to walk into the square," he said.
  • Alibaba's "big data" systems are behind a "smart city" initiative that ties together data from multiple inputs, including ubiquitous surveillance cameras. 100 smart-city trials are planned by the end of 2018.
  • Tencent, operator of WeChat, is working with local police to build an "early-warning system" that can track and predict crowd-size and movement.

More: U.S.-listed Alibaba is an investor in Chinese facial-recognition startups Megvii Inc and SenseTime.

Go deeper

Birx: Trump White House could have reduced COVID deaths by 30 to 40%

Deborah Birx, then-coronavirus response coordinator, speaks during a news conference in the White House last November. Photo: Chris Kleponis/CNP/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Deborah Birx, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator under former President Trump, told a House subcommittee this month that the Trump administration could have prevented tens of thousands of deaths during the early stages of the pandemic.

Driving the news: "I believe if we had fully implemented the mask mandates, the reduction in indoor dining ... and we had increased testing, that we probably could have decreased fatalities into the 30% less to 40% less range," Birx said in closed-door testimony to the Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, according to excerpts provided by the panel.

Study: Fear of debt keeps Latinos out of college

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Fear of never being able to pay off school loans is keeping many young Latinos in the U.S. from going to college or completing a degree, according to a report published in September.

State of play: Latinos tend to have more difficulty repaying school debt than white student borrowers, according to Federal Reserve data, at the same time that they need more loans in order to afford tuition.

3 hours ago - World

Scoop: Biden administration objects to Israeli settlements plan

Israeli PM Naftali Bennett (L) meets with Secretary of State Tony Blinken. Photo: Olivier Douliery/Pool/AFP via Getty

The Biden administration has privately protested to the Israeli government over its plan to approve the planning and construction of more than 3,000 new housing units in the Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, sources briefed on the issue tell me.

Why it matters: The approvals for new homes in the settlements will be the first since President Biden assumed office, and come after Biden and his top aides personally pressed Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to restrain settlement activity and decrease the number of new housing units.

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