Human Rights Watch calls on China to shut down “Police Cloud”

The Chinese government is using a “Police Cloud” of big data platforms to aggregate and analyze citizen’s personal information on a grand scale, and Human Rights Watch (HRW) is calling on it to discontinue the practice, according to a Sunday announcement.

HRW examined official announcements, tender documents, press reports and other sources to compile an overall picture of the ambitious surveillance program. The system attempts to track and predict the activities of those considered threatening to the regime, including activists, dissidents, and ethnic minorities, HRW says.

Police Cloud systems are implemented provincially, but appear to be a national project, HRW says, in which routinely-collected biographical data, such as residential addresses, family relations, birth control methods, and religious affiliations are integrated with travel records, biometrics, CCTV footage, and information from government departments and private companies. Data purchased by police from third parties includes MAC addresses used to identify computers or networked devices.

“It is frightening that Chinese authorities are collecting and centralizing ever more information about hundreds of millions of ordinary people, identifying persons who deviate from what they determine to be ‘normal thought,’ and then surveilling them,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “Until China has meaningful privacy rights and an accountable police force, the government should immediately cease these efforts.”

HRW says that China is also developing facial recognition and automatic number plate recognition for CCTV footage to improve its tracking capabilities. As previously reported, China is also reported to be developing a system to identify individuals within three seconds by applying facial recognition to match them with stored ID photos.

In Shandong Province, which claims to have one of the more established Police Clouds, the big data platform produces a daily summary of its analytical findings, which are sent to police officer’s handheld devices.

China has signed, but never ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and HRW says current Chinese laws do not meet the Covenant’s privacy standards.

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