A surveillance system using facial scanning technology is being built in China’s Henan province to monitor journalists and other “people of interest”.
In documents seen by the BBC, the system classifies journalists according to a “traffic light” system that includes green, yellow and red.
The document says journalists in the “red” category will be “categorized and dealt with.
The Henan Provincial Public Security Bureau did not respond to a request for comment.
The documents were found by surveillance analysis firm IPVM. They also outline plans to monitor other “people of concern,” including foreign students and female immigrants.
“The government doesn’t need more power to track more people …… especially those who might try to hold it accountable in a peaceful way,” Human Rights Watch said.
The documents are part of a tender document from the Henan Provincial Public Security Bureau, released on July 29. The document encourages Chinese companies to bid for the construction of the “325 Platform of Henan Provincial Public Security Department. Neusoft Group (NeuSoft) won the bid on Sept. 17.
Neusoft did not respond to the BBC’s request for comment.
The slides in the document outline how the upgraded surveillance system will work
The system includes facial recognition technology linked to thousands of cameras in Henan. When it finds a “person of interest,” it will alert authorities.
“Persons of interest” will be categorized into a “thematic database,” which is an existing database of information and images of people in the province.
The system will also be interfaced with the Chinese national database.
“Key persons of interest”
Journalists are a category of interest to the Henan Public Security Bureau, including foreign journalists.
“The initial proposal is to classify journalists of concern into three levels of persons of concern,” the document said.
“Level one personnel are marked as red and are persons of key concern.”
“Level two personnel marked as yellow, for general concern, the entry criteria for that concern journalists who have a criminal record in China (docked to the national public security entry and exit management database).”
“Level three personnel marked as green, for the reassurance of personnel, the entry of the general concern for the harmless journalists.”
Once a “journalist of concern” marked as “red” or “yellow” buys a ticket to the province, an alert will be triggered.
The system will also assess foreign students and classify them into three risk categories – “good student,” “average person” and “key or unstable personnel.”
“The school will provide the list of foreign students of concern in daily management, and immigration, national security and national security will make security assessments based on their respective information bases with reference to the daily attendance of foreign students of concern, examination results, whether they are from key countries and compliance with school rules and regulations,” the document said.
Schools themselves are required to notify authorities of students with security concerns, and those deemed to be of concern will be tracked.
A “wartime alert mechanism” will be activated during sensitive periods such as the National Conference, and tracking of “international students of concern” will be enhanced, including locating their cell phones.
The document outlines the following sources of information that authorities want the system to include.
Social media (such as WeChat and Weibo)
Photos (from existing database)
The system should also focus on “stranded women”, i.e. illegal immigrant women who do not have the right to reside in China.
A significant number of women travel to China in search of work, and some are trafficked from neighboring countries to China.
The system will be “interfaced” with the databases of the National Immigration Bureau, the Ministry of Public Security and the Henan Provincial Public Security Bureau.
The release of the documents comes at a time when the Chinese government has criticized foreign media coverage of the flooding in Henan province.
The documents were released around the same time that the Chinese government criticized foreign media coverage of the Henan floods.
Conor Healy, government director at IPVM, said, “[The outside world] still knows very little about the technical architecture of mass surveillance in China …… but the creation of customized surveillance technology to improve the effectiveness of state crackdowns on journalists is a new effort. “
“These documents reveal what Chinese public security officials want from mass surveillance,” he said.
China’s facial recognition system is thought to be in use nationwide.
The Washington Post reported last year that telecommunications giant Huawei tested an artificial intelligence software that could identify Uighurs and alert police.
Sophie Richardson, director of Human Rights Watch’s China division, said, “The goal is chilling, and it ensures that everyone knows they can and will be monitored, and they never know what might trigger hostility.”