China’s high-tech surveillance drives oppression of Uyghurs

By | October 31, 2022

Steven Feldstein writes:

On August 31, 2022, in the final hours of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet’s term, after months of delays and postponements, her department released a comprehensive report detailing China’s oppression in Xinjiang Province. The circumstances of China’s repression are well documented. Academics and human rights organizations estimate that 10 to 20 percent (with an upper limit calculated at 1.8 million) of adult Uyghurs in Xinjiang have been subjected to detention by Chinese authorities. Officials in that country have established a network of 1,300 to 1,400 “vocational education and training centres,” to enforce a mass incarceration campaign. The facility structures incorporate security features, such as “high walls, watch towers, and barbed-wired external and internal fencing.” Uyghur detainees describe systematic use of torture, mistreatment, mass rape, and forced sterilization as a condition of incarceration. (Forced sterilization has allegedly occurred among the general Uyghur population as well.) While the UN report pointedly refrains from calling out China’s actions as genocide, it recognizes that these allegations “may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity.”

Underpinning China’s system of oppression is a high-tech network of surveillance. Developed in partnership with private companies, China has unleashed wholesale monitoring and tracking of Uyghur individuals, including biometric data collection of facial imagery and iris scans and genomic surveillance through mandatory DNA sampling. According to the UN report: “Such monitoring has reportedly been driven by an ever-present network of surveillance cameras, including facial recognition capabilities; a vast network of “convenience police stations” and other checkpoints; and broad access to people’s personal communication devices and financial histories, coupled with analytical use of big data technologies.”

What can be concluded about Xinjiang? Have Chinese authorities established a new model for digital control? While a fair case can be made that China’s approach is gaining influence in certain countries—mostly authoritarian states—it’s unlikely to lead to full-scale adoption of China’s techno-repression model for the simple fact that few countries possess the resources or digital know-how to implement these systems. [Continue reading…]

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