Hu Jintao Can Hear You

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Me Chinese, me play joke, me get you locked up for unacceptable political speech

From the WSJ and Gizmodo.com come reports that visitors can expect surveillance equipment in Beijing taxis:

[O]n your taxi's dash is a microphone that can be activated remotely, at any time and without the driver's knowledge, for a live listen into any one of Beijing's estimated 70,000 cabs. And then, if the folks on the other end don't like what they hear, they can take things even further.

The GPS-equipped devices also allow for remote disabling by "cutting off the oil or electric supply," effectively shutting down the engine and keeping it from being restarted. Yikes.

The microphones I understand, but the remote shut-off?

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  1. The microphones I understand, but the remote shut-off?

    That’s for spurring fun, spontaneous Chinese Fire Drills.

  2. Fucking LOL, Epi.

    But I do not understand the consternation.

    What? An oppressive regime acts without concern for the well-being of its citizens? What?!

    Yeah, it’s par for the course.

  3. If someone had the skill, sending the shut off signal to all 70,000 cabs at once would be a world-class prank.

  4. Actually, it’s capitalism and technology working wonders. (Thought I should try being serious for once.)

  5. If the riders are innocent, they have nothing tooowwAAAh HA HA HA HA!

    Sorry, I though I could get all the way through that.

  6. The remote shut-off is so they can arrest you for Impure Thoughts without having to break a sweat. Otherwise, they would have to figure out who was in the cab and track you down somehow after you had been dropped off.

  7. I hope the doors automatically lock themselves, entrapping the occupants until they can be collected by the proper authorities.

    Is it wrong for me to have an image of David Addington, in my head, saying, “Why don’t WE have those?”

  8. Does this remind anyone of the scene in Idiocracy where they detect him as a fugitive in the taxi and shut it down, only to riddle it with bullets moments later?

  9. How about in-seat tasers? Or that back-seat disintegration beam from the Heavy Metal movie?

    Do Beijing cabs have pre-recorded celebrity safety warnings?

  10. Er, not a taxi, his friend’s car

  11. Idea: Totalitarian Cash Cab.

  12. Idea: Totalitarian Cash Cab.

    The stakes would certainly be higher.

  13. By the end of the week some idiot will propose adapting this technology to monitor and control sex offenders and/or drunk drivers.

  14. America’s future, today.

  15. It would be great. The show would be involuntary. Agents leap from the cab and black-bag random citizens to play. Three wrong answers and you are shot for posessing insufficient knowledge and disgracing your family. There’s a “Red Book Challenge.”
    If a question is hard you get to make a mobile shoutout to any of the few provinces where phones are legal.

  16. I have to say that nothing beats a “Minority Report” style police commandeering that politely and automatically steers your car to the nearest police station.

    If someone had the skill, sending the shut off signal to all 70,000 cabs at once would be a world-class prank.

    World-class, certainly. But I think the probably body count being greater than zero places it firmly outside the realm of prankery.

  17. Meh. I can’t imagine they did a full test of the system, so god only knows what’s going to happen when it’s live. I’m taking bets on the voice and lock out features not being synced correctly, so they shut down the wrong cab.

  18. I picture placards on the cabs that read “Your taxes at work: Making the systematic violation of your basic human rights even more easy and convenient, with push-button brutality!”

  19. The GPS-equipped devices also allow for remote disabling by “cutting off the oil or electric supply,” effectively shutting down the engine and keeping it from being restarted. Yikes.

    I’d say somebody’s having a bit of fun. Cutting off the electric supply would instantly kill the engine. Power steering and power brakes would cease to function. Cutting off the oil would cause the engine to overheat. This would not stop the car but would eventually cause catastrophic engine failure.

  20. The microphones I understand, but the remote shut-off?

    Lemme take a stab at this one.

    The GPS-equipped devices also allow for remote disabling by “cutting off the oil or electric supply,” effectively shutting down the engine and keeping it from being restarted.

    Okay, if they are diesel cabs I can understand the usage of “oil”, however, cutting off electric does not normally kill a diesel engine.

    My guess is a bad translation where “oil” means fuel, i.e., gasoline. Cutting off fuel, air or electricity will kill the engine.

    BTW, if they cut off the lubricating oil that would seize the engine, but it would be damaged so badly extensive repairs or replacement would be in order.

  21. World-class, certainly. But I think the probably body count being greater than zero places it firmly outside the realm of prankery.

    That would depend on how quickly the cabs lose speed, unless you mean the variable of how badly people will react when stuck in an endless traffic jam.

  22. Next: trapdoors under the awards podium (whatever the name is for those things), in case any athletes make Falun Gong gestures, or raised fists, or something while getting a medal.

  23. Technology can be used for good or evil. The Chinese government certainly falls into the evil category. I’m surprised they don’t lock the driver and passengers in while the police converge.

  24. Do Beijing cabs have pre-recorded celebrity safety warnings?

    Attention subversive, this is Jeff Goldblum: your cab is now filling with toxic gas. Your family will be billed accordingly. Thank you for visiting Beijing.

  25. HA,

    Can’t you upload a virus from an Apple computer to disable Jeff Goldblum?

  26. That would depend on how quickly the cabs lose speed, unless you mean the variable of how badly people will react when stuck in an endless traffic jam.

    That, and the heart attacks that it might provoke (half kidding), or the ambulance and/or fire routes it will block (not kidding).

  27. They might, if locks are strictly controlled by the electrical system with no manual release. If the back seats are caged off like they are in most cabs, it wouldn’t be all that different from “child safety” locks.

  28. This reminds me of Heinlein’s Between Planets. The robo-cabs were bugged, and the police were able to divert the cabs to bring people to the police stations.

    I used to love dystopian SF, until I figured I’d actually live to see those predictions become reality.

  29. I used to love dystopian SF, until I figured I’d actually live to see those predictions become reality.

    I still love it, for pretty much the same reason. The “I told ya so” opportunities are endless, and I half-expect the irate ghosts of P.K. Dick and R. Heinlein to appear on major television news for just that purpose any day now.

  30. All this time I thought the Shanghai taxis sputtered and stalled because they are a POS. Now I know it is just a Communist plot.

    The crafty bastards!

  31. Cabs in China are not diesel. They are mostly a collection of new Hyundais and old Passats, although I haven’t spent a ton of time in Beijing.

    Vacuum assist power brakes will continue to work for a few stops, even if the ignition is cut off. These little cars could certainly steer safely to the curb without power steering.

    That said, I doubt the Party has given much thought to the safety of the occupants. And even less so to the safety of the driver.

  32. Alternatively, one could just carry on all your subversive conversations in Navajo when in Chinese cabs. That’ll show ’em!

  33. Alternatively, one could just carry on all your subversive conversations in Navajo when in Chinese cabs. That’ll show ’em!

    Speaking in dead/rare languages is subversive.

    You shall be detained.

  34. I half-expect the irate ghosts of P.K. Dick and R. Heinlein to appear on major television news for just that purpose any day now.

    Why, when they are sitting comfortably on a cushy sofa, eating popcorn, drinking beer, and laughing at us, would they do that?

  35. Speaking in dead/rare languages is subversive.

    You shall be detained.

    Yet more reasons to avoid public or quasi-public transportation. I’ll carry on my conversations in Etruscan in my own vehicle with none the wiser.

  36. T,

    You know Etruscan? That’s got to be worth some money.

  37. You know Etruscan? That’s got to be worth some money.

    It could also lead to him being raped while being called “Sabine” by some guys from Rome.

  38. Why, when they are sitting comfortably on a cushy sofa, eating popcorn, drinking beer, and laughing at us, would they do that?

    For the LOLz, of course!

  39. Will no one think of the meter?

  40. Coming soon to America: remote tire pressure sensors. Don’t check your air often enough?
    The tire police will remotely deflate all four tires of your vehicle.

  41. Sounds like country north of the U.S.’s Bait Car program.

  42. Gosh, the Olympics haven’t even started yet and the fun stories are rolling in.

  43. Don’t forget the possibility that they could be bluffing about the remote-disable feature.

  44. Actually, cabs in China are a collection of anything with 3 or 4 wheels that runs, yes I did say 3 or 4, doors are optional in some cities. Animal and human powered cabs still exist as well. As for shutting them off at will, that might work during the temporarily “light” traffic of the olympics. Do it during a normal workday and you will turn a nightmare traffic scene into hell on earth, especially on a hot, polluted summer day.

  45. The “I told ya so” opportunities are endless, and I half-expect the irate ghosts of P.K. Dick and R. Heinlein to appear on major television news for just that purpose any day now.

    Are you kidding me? Where do you think I got my ideas? From my own imagination? Just because you think I’m illiterate doesn’t mean that I actually am.

  46. J sub D | August 6, 2008, 10:46am | #
    Technology can be used for good or evil. The Chinese government certainly falls into the evil category.

    But you don’t see kiss-ass Bush putting them in the Axis of Evil, do you?

  47. Steve Chapman and I went to work for the Chinese governemnt shortly after this article his article praising this typ of technology was written in Febuary.

    https://www.reason.com/news/show/124985.html

    I am glad to see that Reason is really starting to impact policy in the real world. If this keeps up then soon we will all have free-minds AND free-markets.

  48. You know Etruscan? That’s got to be worth some money.

    Given my command of it, engineering still pays better.

  49. Can’t you upload a virus from an Apple computer to disable Jeff Goldblum?

    Although Apple has managed to cross-platform with most operating systems including Unix and space aliens, they have not yet been able achieve compatibility with Chinese taxis.

    Or Windows Vista.

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