China to go full dystopia with mandatory vehicle RFID chips in 2019

In a move that comes across as a strengthening of domestic surveillance policies, China will require all new vehicles to have vehicle-identity RFID chips starting next year.

Kyle Hyatt Former news and features editor
Kyle Hyatt (he/him/his) hails originally from the Pacific Northwest, but has long called Los Angeles home. He's had a lifelong obsession with cars and motorcycles (both old and new).
Kyle Hyatt
2 min read

Even without its thick blanket of Blade Runner-like smog, China would totally qualify as a real-life modern dystopia, thanks to a heavily regulated national internet and a profoundly authoritarian government. Well, guess what -- that government will be getting even more tools to track and monitor its citizens by way of RFID technology making its way into new Chinese-market cars starting next month, according to the Wall Street Journal.

If that sounds super-scary and weird to you, you're not alone. The program is ostensibly being used to generate data that will help alleviate China's hellacious traffic, but critics of the plan say that it will also likely be used as another powerful tool for domestic surveillance by the Chinese government.

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The Chinese government's move to equip all cars with RFID chips to be scanned is ostensibly a move to help alleviate the country's notoriously bad traffic.

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The RFID chips will be read by sensors installed along roads by the government and feed data about the vehicle's location and owner back to the Ministry of Public Security. This kind of RFID scanning is less precise than GPS tracking, given that it only shows when vehicles pass sensors, but it's still plenty to build a profile of someone's habits based on where they drive.

The program is set to begin in July and will be optional for the first year, after which it will become compulsory for all new vehicles. With annual vehicle sales of around 30 million, it's not hard to see how this kind of data collection could become problematic for the people of China, particularly when combined with data gathered from the government's vast array of security cameras, facial recognition technology and of course, internet monitoring.

If you need us, we'll be watching dystopian sci-fi movies while listening to Godspeed You! Black Emperor and shuddering in a corner.