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China Is Using Facial Recognition To Track Ethnic Minorities, Even In Beijing

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It’s happened again – China’s unconstrained approach to automating dystopia has been exposed by the lack of basic data security. TechCrunch reported on Friday that a security researcher had “found a smart city database accessible from a web browser without a password, [the details of which he passed] to TechCrunch in an effort to get the data secured.” The data, which included “facial recognition scans on hundreds of people over several months,” was hosted by Alibaba, a major player in China’s tech sector and a backer of several of the AI unicorns behind the most sophisticated surveillance state capabilities.

The issue for China is that this latest set of exposed data, discovered by John Wethington, “uses facial recognition to detect ethnicities and labels them — such as ‘汉族’ for Han Chinese, the main ethnic group of China — and also ‘维族’ — or Uyghur Muslims.” These systems have been honed in Xinjiang, an unconstrained high-tech surveillance laboratory where the industrial-scale oppression of the Muslim Uighur population has created a belated wave of international condemnation in recent months. In remote Xinjiang, the strained and dismissed defense has been one of terrorism and security. Harder to make that stick in the capital.

The technologies developed by China (oppressively) in Xinjiang and (more sensitively) in cities like Beijing are now being relentlessly exported under a state-subsidized push towards a dominant position in the security sector. It is a program that has fueled the development of advanced surveillance technology by existing players and new entrants with no reins applied.

On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) exposed details of a smartphone app that is used by the police in Xinjiang that packaged multiple data sources on monitored citizens. The system “tracked the movement of people by monitoring the ‘trajectory’ and location data of their phones, ID cards, and vehicles; it also monitoring the use of electricity and gas stations of everybody in the region. This is consistent with Xinjiang local government statements that emphasize officials must collect data for the IJOP system in a ‘comprehensive manner’ from ‘everyone in every household’.”


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