China is using a mobile app to gather and store data on 13 million ethnic minority Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), Human Rights Watch said in a report published on Thursday.
The report, “China’s Algorithms of Repression: Reverse Engineering a Xinjiang Police Mass Surveillance App,” analyzes how a Chinese-made mobile app helps XUAR authorities conduct “illegal mass surveillance and arbitrary detention of Muslims.”
The New York-based watchdog group worked for 14 months with German security firm Cure53 to reverse engineer the mobile app that officials use to connect to the Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJOP), a Xinjiang policing program that flags people deemed potentially threatening.
“The goal is apparently to identify patterns of, and predict, the everyday life and resistance of its population, and, ultimately, to engineer and control reality,” HRW said in the report.
“The IJOP platform tracks everyone in Xinjiang. It monitors people’s movements by tracing their phones, vehicles, and ID cards. It keeps track of people’s use of electricity and gas stations,” said the report.
The government’s “Strike Hard Campaign against Violent Terrorism” (Strike Hard Campaign) “has turned Xinjiang into one of China’s major centers for using innovative technologies for social control,” HRW said.
“Many—perhaps all—of the mass surveillance practices described in this report appear to be contrary to Chinese law. They violate the internationally guaranteed rights to privacy, to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, and to freedom of association and movement,” HRW said in a statement.
“Their impact on other rights, such as freedom of expression and religion, is profound,” the group said.