China using big data to detain people before crime is committed

Barely seven months ago, a senior Chinese official promised that artificial intelligence could one day help authorities spot crime before it happens.

In the country’s far western Xinjiang region, it’s already happening, with the establishment of a system that critics call “Orwellian” in scope and ambition, and which is being used to place people in political re-education.

Called the Integrated Joint Operations Platform, or IJOP, it assembles and parses data from facial-recognition cameras, WiFi internet sniffers, licence-plate cameras, police checkpoints, banking records and police reports made on mobile apps from home visits, a new report from Human Rights Watch finds.

If the system flags anything suspicious – a large purchase of fertilizer, perhaps, or stockpiles of food considered a marker of terrorism – it notifies police, who are expected to respond the same day and act according to what they find. “Who ought to be taken, should be taken,” says a work report located by the rights organization.

Another official report shows how reports generated by IJOP are used to send people to an “Occupational Skills and Education Training Centre” where political re-education is carried out.

“We have documented the connection between a big-data program and detentions,” said Maya Wang, senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch. “We are no longer saying that mass surveillance is deeply and widely intrusive when it comes to privacy rights, which of course is a big alarm. It goes further than that. People are being detained in an arbitrary manner because they are put in these political-education facilities.”

Such re-education can involve forcibly detaining people for months at a time without charges to inculcate them in political doctrine considered acceptable by the Chinese state….

It’s highly unlikely such “re-education” will be restricted to conducting classes in peasant political philosophy.

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