CHINA is testing a new facial recognition system that tracks targeted members of the Muslim Uighur community and alerts police when they stray beyond designated “safe areas.”
According to a report from Bloomberg, the technology is being used in the Muslim-dominated villages on China’s western Xinjiang region. Police are alerted when tracked individuals venture more than 300 metres from their home or workplace, according to a person familiar with the project.
The alert project links security cameras to a database of individuals who have attracted the attention of authorities and tracks their movements within a particular area, Bloomberg’s source said, adding that police can then follow up by intercepting the individuals, visiting their homes, or questioning their families and friends.
State-run defence contractor China Electronics Technology Group is leading the project, claiming it is part of the company’s effort to develop software to collate data on jobs, hobbies, consumption habits, and other behaviour of ordinary citizens to predict terrorist acts before they occur, Bloomberg reports.
But critics have raised concerns the project is transforming the region into a high-tech police state.
“A system like this is obviously well-suited to controlling people,” said security expert Jim Harper, executive vice president of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. “‘Papers, please’ was the symbol of living under tyranny in the past. Now, government officials don’t need to ask.”
The Xinjiang region – home to more than 10 million Muslim ethnic Uighurs – borders both Pakistan and Afghanistan, and has become one of the world’s most heavily policed places.
Local governments have been ordering residents to install satellite-tracking systems in their cars. People must submit to facial scans to enter markets, buy fuel or visit places such as the capital Urumqi’s main bus terminal.
China’s treatment of the ethnic minority, has been the subject of frequent criticism by the US and European countries.
According to a new report from Human Rights Watch, the Xinjiang Counter-Extremism Regulations, which prohibit the wearing of “abnormal” beards or veils in public places, came into effect in 2017.
Xinjiang authorities also issued a rule banning parents from naming children with dozens of names with religious connotations, such as Saddam and Medina, on the basis that they could “exaggerate religious fervour.”
This week a security official in Kashgar told Radio Free Asia, at least 120,000 Uighur have been confined to political “re-education camps” reminiscent of the Mao era that are springing up across the country’s western border.
While China blames some Uighurs for “terrorist” attacks, experts outside China say Beijing has exaggerated the threat from the Uighurs and that repressive domestic policies are responsible for an upsurge in violence there that has left hundreds dead since 2009.