Beijing is using closed-circuit TV cameras and other surveillance technology to keep officials alerted to the movement of dissidents and suspected terrorists in the restive province of Xinjiang.
The scale of official monitoring could be way more extensive than previously thought, as public and national security agencies have installed CCTV and facial scanning and recognition systems in as many as 6.7 million locations throughout Xinjiang, such as mosques, Uighur communities, plus airports and train and bus stations, according to Human Rights Watch, the New York-based advocacy group, which cited sources privy to the situation.
The NGO estimates that more than 2.5 million residents in the western province – roughly one-tenth of the total population – could be watched and tracked on a daily basis by this pervasive matrix of cameras with algorithms that can compare footage against a database of people that are in Beijing’s bad books.
A dragnet could close in on a troublemaker once he is spotted, with the help of military police who also trawl the streets in major cities and towns for suspects.
It is also said that residents in places identified as “high-risk areas” – like downtown Urumqi and Kashgar, which straddles China’s borders with Afghanistan and Tajikistan – must download an app designed to scan one’s phone calls and messages. Each family there must also assigned a QR code so police can scan and update information.
Other reports say the surveillance systems used in Xinjiang are tailor-made by Hangzhou-based video security technology firm Hikvision, which is under the umbrella of the state-owned China Electronics Technology Group. Hikvision has a stranglehold on the global CCTV business but was blocked by many countries overseas, after its ties with the state and role in repressive monitoring of ethnic people in Xinjiang was revealed.
Hikvision’s products are also used at numerous reeducation and labor camps in Xinjiang, where Uighurs and other ethnic minorities are indoctrinated with Beijing’s views about Communism and ethnic cohesion.
Last year, Beijing’s Global Times bragged that the Hikvision system could scan the entire Chinese population of 1.3 billion people in the blink of an eye.
Its Sky Net system is eerily reminiscent of the kind of surveillance George Orwell described in his gloomy novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.
The system is capable of instantly identifying people’s faces from different angles and under poor lighting, even when they are in constant motion, such as riding an escalator or driving a car. Its computer banks are fast enough to scan China’s entire population in just one second, or two seconds to remember and recognize everyone on the planet, with an accuracy rate of up to 99.8%.
In Xinjiang, cameras, like the tentacles of Sky Net, constantly feed police the location of everyone in a street, following their movement non-stop.
Once a person’s facial data is entered, surveillance cameras throughout Xinjiang and the rest of China can identify a person the moment he or she appears in the street, said Li Wei, a counterterrorism expert at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, told Xinhua.