China district police build surveillance system targeting foreign journalists, Uyghurs  – Middle East Monitor

Police in China’s Shanghai province are building a huge surveillance system which is able to alert and notify authorities when foreign journalists travel to Xinjiang province and when Uyghurs venture outside that area.

Back in March this year, authorities in Songjiang District – one of Shanghai’s largest districts with over 1.5 million residents – had announced that a local integrator had won a “Big Data” software project for the district’s police worth $315,000.

According to a report by IPVM, a prominent outlet that reports on physical security technology, Shanghai’s police have been using that to build a sweeping surveillance system which – through 26 “modules” – sorts through Shanghai’s massive police database to alert them to different categories of people or incidents.

One of those modules, named the “Special Personnel Screening Mode”, reportedly creates a system that automatically flags foreign journalists who are listed in travel records to the north-western Xinjiang region, either by plane or by train.

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Another of those 26 modules creates a system that can automatically “spot Uyghurs coming to Shanghai”, Human Rights Watch told IPVM, saying it is an act already subject to “heightened monitoring and control” as they are identified and often interrogated by police when they travel within China. “It’s been widely documented that, in the rest of China, when Uyghurs ride a train, go to a hotel, visit an internet café—systems that monitor these places immediately dispatch the police to interrogate these people. Uyghurs are typically not allowed to stay in hotels, for example”, HRW stated.

According to the report, this new surveillance system and its modules work by connecting directly to Shanghai’s Alibaba police cloud platform, which runs on a customised Alibaba cloud that enables Songjiang police to access 34 types of data. Those include data such as foreigners’ basic information, visa information, hotel check-ins, transport and entry and exit information.

Currently, the project only applies to Shanghai’s Songjiang district and not the whole city, but it reportedly aims to serve as a “case study” for the “digital transformation” of the city’s entire police force. As the district’s authorities put it, the intention is to “Improve the technology and intelligence of police work, promote the re-engineering of the current police process, and provide a case study for learning and reference for the digital transformation of the city’s public security”. If the system proves successful, it could be rolled out across the rest of the city of a population of 25 million residents.

While the system is officially set to target a wide range of people and fields such as sex workers, illegal immigrants and drug traffickers, the report – as well as rights groups over the years – cited concerns over the potential of Chinese authorities to use it to group foreign journalists and Uyghurs in with those targets. That risk, according to the report, would serve to further criminalise journalism in China and increase the persecution of the Uyghur Muslim minority within the country as a whole.

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