Authorities in northwest China are testing facial-recognition systems that tip off police when residents of the Uyghur-dominated Xinjiang region venture more than 300 meters (1,000 feet) from designated “safe areas,” according to media reports.
The safe areas comprise individuals’ homes and workplaces, Bloomberg News reported last week, citing a person familiar with the project, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they did not have authorization to discuss it with the media.
State-run defense contractor China Electronics Technology Group is leading the Xinjiang alert project, which Bloomberg said is part of the Beijing-based company’s effort to develop software to collate data on jobs, hobbies, consumption habits, and other behavior of ordinary citizens to predict terrorist acts before they occur.
The project, which began testing early last year, is focused on southern Xinjiang—home to the majority of the region’s more than 11 million Muslim ethnic Uyghurs.
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.
RFA’s Uyghur Service was not immediately able to confirm details of the new facial recognition program while attempting to contact relevant security officials.
Sophie Richardson, China director for the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), called the project “a whole new level in the use of surveillance technology to restrict people’s behavior” and said it is important to watch how authorities in Xinjiang use the information they obtain through the project.
“Obviously it is enormously problematic that police can be tracking people’s movements without any clear indication of people having broken a law, but it’s not exactly clear what the police will do with this information,” she told RFA.
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Reported by Adile Ablet and Alim Seytoff for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.
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