Chinese government defends biometric surveillance in Xinjiang saying 13,000 terrorism arrests made
Chinese authorities say in a new white paper they have arrested 13,000 terrorists in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in the past five years, where facial recognition, fingerprints, and iris biometric have previously been alleged to be part of a repressive mass surveillance system.
The white paper from the State Council Information Office, titled “The Fight Against Terrorism and Extremism and Human Rights Protection in Xinjiang,” describes a crackdown on extremism necessitated by a wave of violence inspired by a perverted interpretation of Islam, and a concerted and largely successful deradicalization program. This crackdown has also included punishing more than 30,000 people for 4,858 religious activities, and confiscating more than 345,000 “copies of illegal religious materials.”
The paper begins with an explanation of Xinjiang’s historical place in China, and traces the roots of Islamic separatism and extremism in the region. It notes that separatists forbid people to laugh at weddings or cry at funerals, among many impositions on others in their communities. The history of terrorism in the region is reviewed, with the paper noting that incomplete statistics indicate thousands of terrorist attacks between 1990 and 2016, killing hundreds and injuring thousands. The law-based approach to counterterrorism the government purportedly takes is discussed, along with the prioritization of a preventative approach, and the “vocational education and training centers” where much of that approach is carried out.
These methods are working, according to the government, with a decline in “evil influences” and increased legal awareness.
“The trend in society is now to pursue knowledge of modern science and technology and a cultured way of life,” the white paper authors write. “Citizens now consciously resist religious extremism. The ethnic groups of Xinjiang now enjoy closer relations through communication, exchange and blending. People have a much stronger sense of fulfillment, happiness and security.”
There has been no known terrorist attack in Xinjiang for more than 2 years.
Digital Barriers founder and CEO and Forbes contributor Zak Doffman calls Xinjiang “a state-sponsored surveillance laboratory,” and says that the revenues from exporting the technologies developed in this dystopian incubator support the research and development for further development of tools of oppression.
Before recent trade disputes and cybersecurity concerns arose, the Chinese government’s programs in Xinjiang resulted in the U.S. restricting domestic transactions with Hikvision, Dahua, and Huawei. American companies, including Thermo Fisher Scientific, have also been caught up in the controversy, and Microsoft recently denied direct involvement.
“What’s new is the breadth of the repression and how the Chinese government is using breakthroughs in technology to increase its effectiveness,” Forbes reports U.S. Diplomat Kelley Currie said before a recent U.N. Human Rights Council meeting.
A recent leak of surveillance data from biometric technology provider SenseNets discovered by security researcher Victor Gevers seems to confirm the most extreme reports of the extent of state surveillance in Xinjiang – as well as its purpose.
“So this insecure face recognition/personal verification solution is built and operated for only one goal,” Gevers wrote in a tweet. “It’s a ‘Muslim tracker’ funded by Chinese authorities in the province of Xinjiang to keep track of Uyghur Muslims.”