Chinese province to use facial recognition to track foreign journalists and others
Chinese firm Neusoft, backed by Huawei’s cloud services, has won a tender from the government of China’s central Henan province to build a facial recognition system to detect and track journalists, foreign students and migrant women as well as following individuals by ethnicity including Uyghurs, report surveillance analysts IPVM and Reuters.
“The surveillance project, which is unlike anything IPVM has previously encountered, targets journalists in a deliberate and calculated manner,” states the investigation. The language used in the tender for ‘dealing with’ journalists detected by the facial recognition system suggests physical intervention.
The tender was posted in July 2021, days after a public backlash against coverage of flooding in Henan by foreign journalists where online commentators called for information to locate the reporters.
The RMB 5 million (US$782,000) facial recognition contract was awarded to Chinese tech firm Neusoft. Reuters reports that the firm has two months to fulfil the contract but could not verify whether the 3,000-camera system was already operational or whether similar systems already exist elsewhere in China to target journalists.
The biometric surveillance platform would categorize targets into red, yellow and green risk profiles and would be triggered by a journalist checking into a hotel in the province, buying a ticket or crossing the provincial border.
“Suspicious persons must be tailed and controlled, dynamic research analyses and risk assessments made, and the journalists dealt with according to their category,” the tender reads, according to Reuters.
No reasons are given in the 200-page tender as to why journalists should be tracked, but working and living as a foreign journalist in China is becoming increasingly untenable due to interventions from authorities at all levels.
The system is also intended to track foreign students – particularly around sensitive dates – and migrant women. Women are trafficked into China from neighboring and regional countries in part due to the gender imbalance.
Tracking people of a certain ethnicity with surveillance systems is already an established practice in China.