As we continue to chart our path down the slippery slope of biometric identification for human beings, we’ve had to speculate about how far we could slide. Well, it appears that China is providing an early example that we would all be wise to take notice of.
It is now a fact that nearly all areas of the modern world have adopted some form of surveillance camera apparatus. Meanwhile, biometric identification technology has advanced to a degree where it’s now possible to merge the two and create not only a pervasive surveillance network, but a nearly real-time identification system that police can use to act upon.
Back in May I highlighted a Russian company called NTechLab that combined CCTV cameras with the vast database of Russian social media giant VKontakte with 300 million users. Using its FindFace system, they announced that they could not only identify people by using facial recognition, but that their system had advanced to integrate emotional identifiers. They claimed a 94% success rate in being able to detect markers that indicate stress, anger or anxiety. The company believes that the merger of these technologies would be a natural fit for surveillance cameras to aid police in pre-crime detection.
Meanwhile, the U.S. has implemented its own pre-crime detection programs in many locations. Additionally, the U.S. was revealed to be one of a number of countries who were using facial recognition billboards to identify political persuasion and manipulate people’s views. It’s called Neuropolitics.
This got the “conspiracy theorists” to wonder what might happen if the biometric surveillance state that was emerging might start using both sides of the technology as a form of political identification and even punishment.
It didn’t take too long for China to confirm that this conspiracy is now a reality.
A comprehensive report from journalists with the Associated Press was highlighted in USA Today, and what they are revealing from China’s Xinjiang region is a must-read for all. Worryingly, there is an overtone of extreme paranoia and xenophobia being displayed by Chinese authorities who are targeting their immigrant population as a source of potential Islamic terrorism.
The student’s friends think he joined the thousands — possibly tens of thousands — of people, rights groups and academics estimate, who have been spirited without trial into secretive detention camps for alleged political crimes that range from having extremist thoughts to merely traveling or studying abroad. The mass disappearances, beginning the past year, are part of a sweeping effort by Chinese authorities to use detentions and data-driven surveillance to impose a digital police state in the region of Xinjiang and over its Uighurs, a 10-million strong, Turkic-speaking Muslim minority that China says has been influenced by Islamic extremism.
Along with the detention camps, unprecedented levels of police blanket Xinjiang’s streets. Cutting-edge digital surveillance systems track where Uighurs go, what they read, who they talk to and what they say. And under an opaque system that treats practically all Uighurs as potential terror suspects, Uighurs who contact family abroad risk questioning or detention.
The journalists gave first-hand impressions of their own experiences trying to document the accusations. What they encountered did little to chalk up various accounts to rumor or exaggeration:
Most of the more than a dozen Uighurs interviewed for this story spoke on condition of anonymity for fear that Chinese authorities would punish them or their family members. The AP is withholding the student’s name and other personal information to protect people who fear government retribution.
Chen and the Xinjiang regional government did not respond to repeated requests for comment. But China’s government describes its Xinjiang security policy as a “strike hard” campaign that’s necessary following a series of attacks in 2013 and 2014, including a mass knifing in a train station that killed 33. A Hotan city propaganda official, Bao Changhui, told the AP: “If we don’t do this, it will be like several years ago — hundreds will die.”
The familiar refrain of trading liberty for security is employed as justification for police state levels of thought policing that far surpass Orwell’s imaginings in 1984.
Deep in the desert’s southern rim, the oasis town of Hotan is a microcosm of how Chen, the Xinjiang party boss, has combined fearsome optics with invisible policing.
He has ordered police depots with flashing lights and foot patrols be built every 500 meters (yards)— a total of 1,130, according to the Hotan government. The AP saw cavalcades of more than 40 armored vehicles including full personnel carriers rumble down city boulevards. Police checkpoints on every other block stop cars to check identification and smartphones for religious content.
That last sentence should raise a huge red flag for those who have been following United States proposals to also check digital devices at the border and even to monitor social media. AP further describes what other violations can be expected in the pursuit of supposed total security.
To enter the Hotan bazaar, shoppers first pass through metal detectors and then place their national identification cards on a reader while having their face scanned.
Hours after visiting the Hotan bazaar, AP reporters were stopped outside a hotel by a police officer who said the public security bureau had been remotely tracking the reporters’ movements.
“There are tens of thousands of cameras here,” said the officer, who gave his name as Tushan. “The moment you took your first step in this city, we knew.”
A further array of technologies that we have covered here at Activist Post as emerging in the U.S. have apparently been fully rolled out to large segments of the Chinese population including vehicle tracking, DNA collection and scanning, and voice biometrics.
The government’s tracking efforts have extended to vehicles, genes, and even voices. In February, authorities in Xinjiang’s Bayingol prefecture, which includes Korla, required every car to install GPS trackers for real-time monitoring. And since late last year, Xinjiang authorities have required health checks to collect the population’s DNA samples. In May, a regional police official told the AP that Xinjiang had purchased $8.7 million in DNA scanners — enough to analyze several million samples a year.
In one year, Kashgar Prefecture, which has a population of 4 million, has carried out mandatory checks for practically its entire population, said Yang Yanfeng, deputy director of Kashgar’s propaganda department. She characterized the checkups as a public health success story, not a security measure.
“We take comprehensive blood tests for the good of the people, not just record somebody’s height and weight,” Yang said. “We find out health issues in citizens even they didn’t know about.”
Lastly, the very worst of Big Data is on full display as not only are people surveilled and databased, but there also appears to be system of threat value being assigned by default based on the analytics. A faulty score could be leading to the disappearances that are being reported.
A document obtained by U.S.-based activists and reviewed by the AP show Uighur residents in the Hebei Road West neighborhood in Urumqi, the regional capital, being graded on a 100-point scale. Those of Uighur ethnicity are automatically docked 10 points. Being aged between 15 and 55, praying daily, or having a religious education, all result in 10 point deductions.
In the final columns, each Uighur resident’s score is tabulated and checked “trusted,” “ordinary,” or “not trusted.” Activists say they anecdotally hear about Uighurs with low scores being sent to indoctrination.
Certainly China does not have a great track record for embracing civil liberties as a rule, but when we look at trends in the U.S. to create biometric border control under the guise of vetting “terrorists and illegals,” we might not be as far as we think from making our future into a similar dystopia.
Main source, USA Today: Surveillance cams, face scans help China make thousands vanish