The NGO Human Rights Watch revealed this week that China is using data compilation technology to enact “predictive policing” measures resulting in the arrest and disappearance of Chinese citizens to “political education camps” based on the potential that they may someday defy the government.
The individuals in question do not face any criminal charges; instead, HRW states, their government profiles indicate that they are likely to engage in anti-communist activity in the future.
The data analysis system that compiles the relevant information – the “Integrated Joint Operations Platform” (IJOP) – has allegedly gone live in Xinjiang, China’s westernmost province, home to the nation’s ethnic Uighur minority. The Uighurs are predominantly Muslim and culturally distinct from the nation’s Han minority, facing significant discrimination from the government and pressure to learn Mandarin and integrate with the Han.
Xinjiang is home to at least one homegrown terrorist group, the separatist East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM). Beijing uses concerns over ETIM activities to target the Uighur minority en masse, confiscating “unauthorized” Qurans, imposing mandatory GPS tracking on all cars in Xinjiang, and detaining and threatening relatives of American Uighurs who choose to speak out on the repression.
According to HRW, which links to Mandarin-language government documents as proof, the IJOP is a mega-database collecting from CCTV cameras, internet monitoring systems, and the province’s many government checkpoints to build a profile of every single person living within its reach:
One source is CCTV cameras, some of which have facial recognition or infrared capabilities (giving them “night vision”). Some cameras are positioned in locations police consider sensitive: entertainment venues, supermarkets, schools, and homes of religious figures.
Another source is “wifi sniffers,” which collect the unique identifying addresses of computers, smartphones, and other networked devices.
The IJOP also receives information such as license plate numbers and citizen ID card numbers from some of the region’s countless security checkpoints and from “visitors’ management systems” in access-controlled communities. The vehicle checkpoints transmit information to IJOP, and “receive, in real time, predictive warnings pushed by the IJOP” so they can “identify targets … for checks and control.”
Targeted individuals first receive visits from government officials who gather more information, including “a range of data about their family, their ‘ideological situation,’ and relationships with neighbors.” Those who have family members detained or investigated for political behavior incompatible with the Communist Party reportedly receive extra scrutiny.
HRW found a document advising government officials that, following the home inspections, “who ought to be taken should be taken,” whether there is probable cause to believe they committed a crime against the state or not.
Most are taken to either prison or “political education camps.” A January report by Radio Free Asia (RFA) found that China is currently detaining at least 120,000 people in these camps for a variety of political “crimes” in Xinjiang. The Guardian, reporting on the RFA revelation, cites estimates that up to 800,000 people may be trapped in these camps.
Few leave, so there is little information out there regarding what occurs to individuals detained in the camps, but an HRW official said among the activities performed there were “singing patriotic songs” and being indoctrinated in “Xi Jinping thought,” the leaders plan for imposing an ideology he describes as “socialism with Chinese characteristics.”
At least four RFA reporters denounced the Chinese communist regime this week for detaining and threatening their relatives in an attempt to pressure the journalists to cease covering repression against Uighurs in the region. Rather than stop reporting, RFA published a new series of stories this week accusing Communist Party Secretary of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Chen Quanguo of taking extreme measures to repress any exhibiting of Uighur identity in the region.
Under Chen’s watch, Chinese communist officials have established a large number of “convenience police stations” throughout “all major cities and rural villages,” empowered to inspect any online devices individuals may be carrying with them when intercepted. Locals told RFA that the stations “keep the area under constant surveillance.”
Chen also introduced a program, RFA reported, pressuring Uighurs to marry into Han families. The program follows the imposition of Mandarin in Xinjiang schools, which Uighurs do not traditionally speak, and new curricula emphasizing “core socialist values” and loyalty to Xi Jinping and the Beijing regime.