Chinese database reveals ‘Muslim-tracking’ surveillance software

Chinese database reveals ‘Muslim-tracking’ surveillance software
A Chinese database that tracks the real-time whereabouts of more than 2.5 million people in western China has been revealed.
2 min read
19 February, 2019
Protesters demand China end its prosecution of Uighur Muslims (AFP)
The existence of a Chinese database that tracks more than 2.5 million people, including Uighur Muslims in western China has been revealed by Victor Gevers, a Dutch cybersecurity researcher.

The database is a compilation of real-time data, updated constantly with GPS coordinates of people's precise whereabouts. Alongside their names, birthdates, and employment, there were notes on the places they had most recently visited – mosques, hotels, restaurants.

It gives a rare glimpse into the extreme nature of China's extensive surveillance of Xinjiang, a region home to the Muslim ethnic Uighur population.

The database appears to have been recording people's movements tracked by facial recognition technology, he said, logging more than 6.7 million coordinates in a span of 24 hours.

Gevers discovered that SenseNets, a Chinese facial recognition company, had left the database unprotected for months. It has now become inaccessible.

"This system was open to the entire world, and anyone had full access to the data," said Gevers, noting that a system designed to maintain control over individuals could have been "corrupted by a 12-year-old".

SenseNets is majority-owned by Beijing-based NetPosa, a technology company specialising in video surveillance with offices in the United States.

Gevers posted a graph online showing that 54.9 percent of the individuals in the database were identified as Han Chinese, the country's ethnic majority, while 28.3 percent were Uighur and 8.3 percent were Kazakh, both Muslim ethnic minority groups.

Xinjiang, meaning 'new territory' and which Uighur activists call East Turkestan, is subject to severe oppressive measures at the hands of the Chinese government.

An estimated 1 million Uighurs, Kazakhs and other Muslim minorities have been detained in "re-education camps" that the government says are "vocational training centres".

"China's human rights violations are all-too-familiar, but what is taking place in Xinjiang is on a whole new scale," Mark P. Lagon wrote in a piece for The New Arab.

Xinjiang has long suffered from violent unrest, which China claims is orchestrated by an organised "terrorist" movement seeking the region's independence.

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 these up to justify tight control of the resource-rich region.