Xinjiang surveillance app targets legal, everyday behaviour: rights…
China is using a mobile app to spy on Muslims and punish them for their lawful behaviour, rights group claims
- Xinjiang authorities closely watch Muslims with 36 categories of behaviour
- Including those who do not socialise with neighbours or have a smartphone
- People who avoid the front door or use a lot of electricity are also targeted
- China is monitoring every aspect of people’s lives in Xinjiang, an expert say
- Up to one million Muslims are said to be held in internment camps by Beijing
China is using a mobile app designed for mass surveillance to profile, investigate and detain Muslims in Xinjiang, a Human Rights Watch report said Thursday.
The app would allegedly label the users’ ‘completely lawful’ behaviour as suspicious, putting them at risk of being penalised or sent to ‘re-education centres’.
Beijing has come under international criticism over its policies in the north-western region, where as many as one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities are being held in internment camps, according to a group of experts cited by the UN.
Scroll down for video
Beijing uses the mobile app to closely watch the Muslim minorities with 36 categories of behaviour, including those who do not socialise with neighbours, often avoid using the front door, don’t use a smartphone, according to a report from Human Rights Watch (file photo)
Xinjiang authorities use a mass surveillance system called the Integrated Joint Operations Platform to gather information from multiple sources, such as facial-recognition cameras
Facial recognition technology has been programmed to look exclusively for Uighur Muslims based on their appearance and track them across China, according to a previous report
Human Rights Watch has previously reported that Xinjiang authorities use a mass surveillance system called the Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJOP) to gather information from multiple sources, such as facial-recognition cameras, Wi-Fi sniffers, police checkpoints, banking records and home visits.
Last month, a New York Times article revealed that the Chinese government is using a vast system of facial-recognition cameras to track its Uighur Muslim minority across the country.
But the new study, entitled ‘China’s Algorithms of Repression’, worked with a Berlin-based security company to analyse an app connected to the IJOP, showing specific acts targeted by the system.
Human Rights Watch claimed it had obtained a copy of the app (pictured) and enlisted cyber-security firm Cure53 to ‘reverse-engineer’ it – to disassemble it and look at its design and data
The app instructs police to investigate those related to someone who got a new number, or related to others who left the country and have not returned after 30 days (file photo)
Xinjiang authorities closely watch the Muslim minorities with 36 categories of behaviour, including those who do not socialise with neighbours, often avoid using the front door, don’t use a smartphone, donate to mosques ‘enthusiastically’, and use an ‘abnormal’ amount of electricity, the group found.
The app also instructs officers to investigate those related to someone who got a new phone number, or related to others who left the country and have not returned after 30 days.
‘Our research shows, for the first time, that Xinjiang police are using illegally gathered information about people’s completely lawful behavior – and using it against them,’ said Maya Wang, senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch.
‘The Chinese government is monitoring every aspect of people’s lives in Xinjiang, picking out those it mistrusts, and subjecting them to extra scrutiny.’
The Muslim population in China, including Hui, Uighurs and Kazakhs, is set to be the 19th largest in the world in 2030, growing from 23.3 million in 2010 to nearly 30 million (file photo)
China has come under international criticism over its policies in Xinjiang in the north-west
The rights group obtained a copy of the app and enlisted cyber-security firm Cure53 to ‘reverse-engineer’ it – to disassemble it and look at its design and data – and examined its source code.
Along with collecting personal information the app prompts officials to file reports about people, vehicles and events they find suspect – and sends out ‘investigative missions’ for police to follow up.
Officers are also asked to check whether suspects use any of the 51 internet tools that are deemed suspicious, including foreign messaging platforms popular outside China like WhatsApp, LINE and Telegram.
A number of people said they or their family members had been detained for having software such as WhatsApp or a Virtual Private Network (VPN) installed on their phones during checks by authorities, according to the report.
The rights group said its findings suggest the IJOP system tracks data of everyone in Xinjiang by monitoring location data from their phones, ID cards and vehicles, plus electricity and gas station usage.
The findings suggest authorities track data of everyone in Xinjiang by monitoring location data from their phones, ID cards and vehicles, according to Human Rights Watch (file photo)
As many as one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities are being held in internment camps, according to a group of experts cited by the UN. Pictured, residents line up inside the Artux City Vocational Skills Education Training Service Center in Artux, Xinjiang
‘Psychologically, the more people are sure that their actions are monitored and that they, at anytime, can be judged for moving outside of a safe grey-space, the more likely they are to do everything to avoid coming close to crossing a moving red-line,’ Samantha Hoffman, an analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s International Cyber Policy Centre, told AFP.
‘There is no rule of law in China, the Party ultimately decides what is legal and illegal behaviour, and it doesn’t have to be written down.’
The IJOP app was developed by Hebei Far East Communication System Engineering Company (HBFEC), which at the time of the app’s development was fully-owned by China Electronics Technology Group Corporation, a state-owned technology giant (CETC), said Human Rights Watch.
CETC could not be reached and HBFEC did not respond to requests for comment.
‘The Chinese government is monitoring every aspect of people’s lives in Xinjiang, picking out those it mistrusts, and subjecting them to extra scrutiny,’ said senior researcher Maya Wang
Washington last year imposed export controls on key Chinese companies including HBFEC and other institutions under CETC, citing risks to US national security and foreign policy interests.
Greg Walton, an independent cyber-security expert who advised on the report, said while the system is a ‘blunt instrument that may be directly contributing to the massive numbers of people in internment camps’, the data if stored could be used in the future for more advanced policing algorithms.
‘This means that data collected through the app today may well be analysed in a few years’ time by far more sophisticated logic,’ he said.
Who are the Chinese Muslims?
Muslims are not a new presence in China. Most of China’s Muslim communities, including the Hui, Uighurs and Kazakhs, have lived in China for more than 1,000 years, according to fact tank Pew Research Center.
The largest concentrations of Muslims today are in the western provinces of Xinjiang, Ningxia, Qinghai and Gansu.
A substantial number of Muslims live in the cities of Beijing, Xi’an, Tianjin and Shanghai.
Chinese Muslim men take part in gathering for the celebration of the Muslim holiday, Eid al-Adha, or the Muslim Feast of the Sacrifice, at the Niu Jie mosque in Beijing, China
They make up about two per cent of the 1.4 billion population in China. However, as the country is so populous, its Muslim population is expected to be the 19th largest in the world in 2030.
The Muslim population in China is projected to increase from 23.3 million in 2010 to nearly 30 million in 2030.
Those who grow up and live in places dominated by the Han Chinese have little knowledge about Islam – or religions in general – thus view it as a threat.
Beijing’s policymakers are predominately Han.
At the same time, radical Muslim Uighurs have killed hundreds in recent years, causing China to implement even more extreme measures to quash potential separatist movements.
Uighurs in particular have long been used to heavy-handed curbs on dress, religious practice and travel after a series of deadly riots in 2009 in Urumqi, according to the Financial Times.
Schoolchildren were banned from fasting during Ramadan and attending religious events while parents were banned from giving newborns Muslim names such as ‘Mohammed’ and ‘Jihad’.
Certain symbols of Islam, such as beards and the veil, were also forbidden. Women with face-covering veils are sometimes not allowed on buses. Unauthorised pilgrimages to Mecca were also restricted.
Source: Read Full Article