Tue, Jun 11, 2019 - Page 9 News List

Report shows the sophistication of mass surveillance in China

Human Rights Watch said that Beijing was collecting data, including on behaviors such as changes of residence, Internet downloads or links to people outside China

By Blake Schmidt  /  Bloomberg

Megvii said it does not have any relationship with the IJOP database nor knowledge of why its technology appeared in the police app. The company has not granted any licenses related to the IJOP app.

“Megvii does not host any third-party data nor does it have any access to the IJOP platform or the national ID database,” the company said in an e-mailed reply to questions, adding that Human Rights Watch did not provide access to the full report before it was published.

Megvii’s investors include Alibaba Group Holding — cofounded by China’s richest man, Jack Ma (馬雲) — and its affiliate Ant Financial Services, as well as Sinovation Ventures and Foxconn Technology Group.

Alibaba and Ant declined to comment, while neither Sinovation or Foxconn responded to requests for comment.

Beyond collecting data and tipping off the police, the IJOP-linked app has a range of other functions. It provides a system for officials to communicate across voice, e-mail and telephone calls, uses Baidu map functionality for geolocation, and allows officials to search for information about people using their name and various other inputs.

Baidu declined to comment.

The Human Rights Watch report provides insight into what type of behavior puts Xinjiang’s citizens on the radar of authorities. Those particularly at risk include people who move in or out of a registered residence, download certain software or content on a mobile phones, or have links to people who are abroad.

The report includes screenshots of the app, which prompts authorities to choose whether data collection is happening in home visits, on the streets, in political education camps, during registration for travel abroad, or when dealing with Xinjiang residents living elsewhere in China. Higher-level officials with administrative rights also have a sixth choice: collecting information from foreign nationals who have entered Xinjiang.

Officials are then prompted to log on and input data ranging from a person’s height to blood type and political affiliation. Another page examined by Human Rights Watch shows 36 “person types” that attract special attention, including people who do not socialize with neighbors or those who use “an abnormal amount of electricity.”

The app also uses the central IJOP system to send instructions for officers to investigate certain individuals, prompting them to collect identifying information such as vehicle color and type and log whether they use one of 51 “suspicious” Internet tools like WhatsApp or virtual private networks.

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