Leaked documents shed light on China's "Orwellian" predictive crime toolkit

November 25th

Leaked Chinese government documents outline how authorities have used AI technology and personal data to track and arrest citizens in its far western Xinjiang province.

The documents were obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in November, and focus on the Chinese government's mass detention and surveillance programs that target Uyghurs and other minority ethnic groups.

Most of the documents are dated 2017 and 2018.

Four individual documents are classified as a "Daily Essentials Bulletin," and outline the use of the government's Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJOP) to tag, track and analyze personal data about citizens and help make decisions on arrest, re-education and detainment.

IJOP is most often seen as a mobile app

One bulletin, dated June 25, 2017, emphasizes the reliance Xinjiang authorities have on IJOP (read in English or Chinese):

With the data of people with different types of tags pushed out by the "integrated" platform, different prefectures should, according to the qualitative and quantitative harmful weights, handle according to the different degrees of methods such as "criminal detention, education and training, retain and interrogate, and prevention and control."

That same document outlines the sheer number of people caught in IJOP's dragnet: in less than a week in June, 2017, IJOP in parts of Xinjiang flagged 24,412 "suspicious persons," which led to 706 arrests. From there, 15,683 were "sent to education and training," and 2,096 were "put under preventative surveillance."

IJOP is most often seen as a mobile app, used by police to check and enter information about individuals in real time:

Human Rights Watch, in a May, 2019 report on IJOP in Xinjiang, described IJOP's AI technologies as follows:

Authorities have enlisted artificial intelligence technologies, provided by private companies—some with links to the state and the military—to help them automatically identify people from public surveillance footage streams and telephone calls; they are also using big data systems to identify individuals posing political threats.

Another bulletin, dated June 16, 2017, focuses on Xinjiang residents who traveled abroad, obtained citizenship in other countries, and those who return to Xinjiang. Perhaps considered a security risk, Chinese border authorities and security are instructed to deny those people entry at the border, deport or arrest them (read in English or Chinese):

Personal identification verification should be inspected one by one, for those who have already cancelled their citizenship and for whom suspected terrorism cannot be ruled out, they should be deported; for those who haven’t cancelled their citizenship yet and for whom for whom suspected terrorism cannot be ruled out, they should first be placed into concentrated education and training and examined.