China wants proof of identity to access airport WiFi in Beijing

Every trip to Mainland China seems to uncover new ways of government control. The latest forces travelers to submit their passports to get a personalized password to use free WiFi at the airport.
Cam MacMurchy

I was up in Beijing last weekend and came across these machines when I asked for WiFi access at Beijing Capital Airport’s Terminal 3:

I had never seen these before, and I travel to Beijing quite frequently. In fact, I didn’t pay much attention to them at all until an airline staff member told me to use the machine to get a username and password for Wifi access.

To be clear, I saw these machines in the Air China First Class Lounge and Cathay Pacific Business Class Lounge, though there were signs in the main passenger areas of the airport, too.

The process is easy enough: have the machine scan the barcode on my boarding pass, then let it scan my passport. Next came a small slip of white paper, like a receipt from an ATM. It contained my custom username and password.

The experience is otherwise unremarkable, except that it’s yet another intrusion by Chinese authorities into the lives of people inside the country. I don’t think checking NHL playoff highlights will interest them, but somebody else’s activities might.

It’s a reminder that China’s surveillance state is alive and thriving. This Wifi machine, on its own, wouldn’t be too concerning, but when it’s combined with biometric scanning, a social credit score, real-time surveillance of social networks, and bonafide concentration camps, it paints a dystopian picture.

My first visit to Beijing was in 1999, and I lived there from 2004 to 2008 (with a brief stint in Guangzhou and Shanghai during that time). Surveillance has been a reality throughout, but only in recent years has China really seen some serious breakthroughs in data collection, often with the assistance of foreign companies.

The government can already reach deep into people’s lives in China, and it’s anyone’s guess how far this could go.

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