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Saturday, July 31, 2021

China in News: Human Rights Watch Releases App for Mass Surveillance

Police in Xinjiang gather data about the citizens in an app. In turn, it informs about suspicious behavior, says Human Rights Watch.

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Amit Kumar
Amit Kumar is editor-in-chief and founder of Revyuh Media. He has been ensuring journalistic quality and shaping the future of Revyuh.com - in terms of content, text, personnel and strategy. He also develops herself further, likes to learn new things and, as a trained mediator, considers communication and freedom to be essential in editorial cooperation. After studying and training at the Indian Institute of Journalism & Mass Communication He accompanied an ambitious Internet portal into the Afterlife and was editor of the Scroll Lib Foundation. After that He did public relations for the MNC's in India. Email: amit.kumar (at) revyuh (dot) com ICE : 00 91 (0) 99580 61723

The Chinese authorities are resorting to an app that brings together large sections of the surveillance apparatus in their crackdown on the Uighur Muslim minority. Research by human rights organization Human Rights Watch revealed that has now been published.

The human rights activists have analyzed the app and taken it apart by reverse engineering in order to fathom its functioning. The results give further insight into China’s surveillance apparatus.

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The minority of Uighurs is mostly of Muslim faith and speaks a Turkic language. She lives mainly in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang. The actions of the Chinese central government there and elsewhere against the Uighurs has been repeatedly criticized. Up to a million Uighurs are said to be imprisoned in so-called “reeducation camps”. China’s leadership speaks of preventive measures to “prevent terrorism” and refuses any interference from abroad. Human Rights Watch now sheds light on how high-tech surveillance has been built there.

According to the sources, the analyzed app is a tool that enables police and other government officials to communicate with the Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJOP). In addition, they can not only pass on data to the platform but are informed when suspects are registered there. Human Rights Watch sees this as a further highlight of surveillance practice in China.

Although it is particularly comprehensive in the autonomous region of Xinjiang – where the app is used – it corresponds in principle to the system that is or should be deployed in the rest of the country.

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In the app, the users are therefore asked to enter a variety of data about the citizens and explain the circumstances in which they were collected. This goes far beyond basic information such as the name or badge number and includes, for example, the number plate, the experienced training, the telephone number, the blood type, the religion and the expression of the religious belief (“average” or “strong”). Of particular interest are therefore longer stays abroad, the abandonment of smartphones, too many descendants, “abnormal energy consumption” or collecting donations for mosques.

At the same time, the App seems to be connected to other databases, writes Human Rights Watch. This would alert users if citizens consume too much power. Policemen should then investigate and decide if further investigation is needed. If a mobile phone logs out of the network for a longer period of time, an alarm is sounded. Even if a car does not appear in the surveillance data for a long time, the police would be alerted. The same thing happens when someone refills a car that is not registered to him or her. Make it possible a registration obligation, according to which only with the indication of the name may be fueled.

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If a person crosses one of the many checkpoints in Xinjiang, it could trigger an alarm as well. Someone who has little contact with neighbors and often does not enter the building through the front door, where video cameras provide surveillance, could also become suspicious. Citizens’ mobile phones and smartphones are also being searched, and certain apps may also continue to target users. These include encrypting messengers like WhatsApp and VPN services.

Human Rights Watch believes the crackdown is unlawful to even in China. The underlying platform must be pulped and the collected data deleted. The responsible party cadres would have to be held accountable and representatives of the United Nations would have to gain access to Xinjiang. Governments around the world should initiate targeted sanctions against those responsible, and the export of surveillance technology should be stopped. Involved companies should show their responsibility.

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