China is now using facial recognition cameras to monitor Uighur Muslims across the country, report claims
- Authorities in China are using AI cameras to track its Uighur Muslim minority
- CCTV cameras have been programmed to look for Uighurs based on appearance
- Beijing has long been criticised for its treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang
Chinese authorities are using a vast system of facial recognition cameras to track its Uighur Muslim minority across the country, according to a New York Times report.
Facial recognition technology – integrated into China’s huge networks of surveillance cameras – has been programmed to look exclusively for Uighurs based on their appearance and keep records of their movements across China, according to the report on Sunday.
Beijing has already attracted widespread criticism for its treatment of Uighurs in the northwest region of Xinjiang, where up to one million members of mostly Muslim Turkic-speaking minority groups are held in internment camps, according to estimates cited by a UN panel.
Security cameras are seen on a street in Urumqi, Xinjiang region in July 2010. Chinese authorities are using a vast system of facial recognition technology to track its Uighur Muslim minority across the country, according to a report published in the New York Times on Sunday
A policemen watch screens showing public areas monitored by security cameras in Urumqi
Police are now reportedly using artificial intelligence (AI) technology to target Uighurs outside Xinjiang, including in wealthy cities like Hangzhou and Wenzhou.
The newspaper claims one central city scanned whether residents were Uighurs 500,000 times in one month alone.
Beijing announced a plan in 2017 to become the world leader in the AI industry. But there have been concerns in the international community that new smart technology is being used for heavy police surveillance in recent years after violent inter-ethnic tensions.
An Uighur woman rests near a cage protecting heavily armed Chinese paramilitary policemen on duty in Urumqi in China’s northwestern region of Xinjiang in 2014. Beijing has already attracted widespread criticism for its treatment of Uighurs in the northwest region of Xinjiang
A gate of what is officially known as a vocational skills education centre under construction in Dabancheng, in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. Nearly one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim Turkic minorities are reportedly being held in detention centres in Xinjiang
The Times cites experts who say this is the first known example of a government intentionally using AI for racial profiling, with appetite for the new systems growing in cities across the country.
In the central province of Shaanxi, authorities reportedly ‘aimed to acquire a smart camera system last year that ‘should support facial recognition to identify Uighur/non-Uighur attributes’.’
The Times says China’s Ministry of Public Security did not respond to a faxed request for comment.
Xinjiang, which shares a border with several countries including Pakistan and Afghanistan, has long suffered from violent unrest, which China claims is orchestrated by an organised ‘terrorist’ movement seeking the region’s independence.
A passenger has his face scanned by a face recognition system to buy a subway ticket and enter a metro station in Guangzhou city, south China’s Guangdong province
It has implemented a massive, high-tech security crackdown, which it says has prevented any violent incidents in over two years.
But many Uighurs and Xinjiang experts say the violent episodes stem largely from spontaneous outbursts of anger at Chinese cultural and religious repression, and that Beijing plays up terrorism to justify tight control of the resource-rich region.
While it previously denied the existence of the camps, Beijing has moved towards acknowledging their existence – but insists they are for ‘vocational education’ and are vital in the fight against separatist sentiments and religious extremism.
It has also gone on a public relations blitz since last October in a bid to counter a global outcry against the camps by inviting diplomats and journalists to tour the centres.
What are China’s Muslim ‘re-education’ camps?
The entrance to a jail which locals say is used to hold those undergoing political indoctrination program in Korla in western China’s Xinjiang region
Chinese authorities in the heavily Muslim region of Xinjiang are believed to have ensnared tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of Muslim Chinese – and even foreign citizens – in mass internment camps since spring last year.
Such detention campaigns have swept across Xinjiang, a territory half the area of India, leading to what a US commission on China said is ‘the largest mass incarceration of a minority population in the world today’.
Chinese officials have largely avoided comment on the camps, but some are quoted in state media as saying that ideological changes are needed to fight separatism and Islamic extremism.
Radical Muslim Uighurs have killed hundreds in recent years, and China considers the region a threat to peace in a country where the majority is Han Chinese.
The internment programme aims to rewire the political thinking of detainees, erase their Islamic beliefs and reshape their very identities, it is claimed. The camps have expanded rapidly over the past year, with almost no judicial process or legal paperwork.
Detainees who most vigorously criticise the people and things they love are rewarded, and those who refuse to do so are punished with solitary confinement, beatings and food deprivation.