Nothing on this scale has ever been attempted. What if China demonstrates that overwhelming, all-encompassing and ubiquitous digital surveillance, eavesdropping on a massive scale, censorship, the banning and arresting of "undesirables," and other Orwellian measures is the path to success for international events. For governing in an age of free speech?
The pass/fail test on this won't be whether all these systems successfully stop terrorist attacks and muzzle free speech. That's Beijing's metric.
The question is: Will Beijing get away with it? Will people -- both Chinese citizens and foreign visitors -- shrug their shoulders and accept it all? Or will they reject it and criticize it? Will journalists do as their told, or will they go out and report conditions in China as they do in all other countries that host the Olympics? Will athletes serve as unwitting apologists for the Chinese Communist Party? Will the global public remain apathetic about Beijing's Orwellian experiment? Will everyone trot out the old "China-isn't-perfect-but-it's-moving-in-the-right-direction" defense? Is world depicted in Orwell's "1984" really the "right direction" for anyone?
It's the classic slippery slope. All governments, and most companies, engage in some kind of security, which often involves snooping, surveillance, activity monitoring and censorship. If Beijing proves that people accept the massive application of electronic Orwellianism, they'll be tempted to follow China's example.
The Chinese government has made itself the only organization in the world that knows how to do this.
Will governments turn to China after future terrorist attacks or threats to public order to learn how to build and maintain their own Orwellian IT systems? Will China advise its allies in Darfur, North Korea, Burma and elsewhere on how to maintain power and snuff out dissent through Orwellian IT?
For the sake of the athletes, I hope the Beijing Olympics are a successful sporting event. And for the safety of Chinese and foreign visitors, I hope all terrorist attacks are foiled, and that there are no accidents, injuries or violence.
But for the sake of humanity, I hope Beijing's Orwellian IT experiment fails.