May 29, 2022
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China uses AI software to improve its surveillance capabilities

China uses AI software to improve its surveillance capabilities

BEIJING — Dozens of Chinese language companies have constructed software that uses synthetic intelligence (AI) to type information collected on residents, amid excessive demand from authorities in search of to improve their surveillance instruments, a Reuters evaluation of presidency paperwork exhibits. 

In accordance to greater than 50 publicly accessible paperwork examined by Reuters, dozens of entities in China have over the previous 4 years purchased such software, often called “one person, one file.” The know-how improves on present software, which merely collects information however leaves it to folks to arrange. 

“The system has the ability to learn independently and can optimize the accuracy of file creation as the amount of data increases. [Faces that are] partially blocked, masked, or wearing glasses, and low-resolution portraits can also be archived relatively accurately,” in accordance to a young revealed in July by the general public safety division of Henan, China’s third-largest province by inhabitants. 

Henan’s division of public safety didn’t reply to requests for remark concerning the system and its uses. 

The brand new software improves on Beijing’s present method to surveillance. Though China’s present programs can gather information on people, legislation enforcement and different customers have been left to arrange it. 

One other limitation of present surveillance software is its incapacity to join a person’s private particulars to a real-time location besides at safety checkpoints reminiscent of these in airports, in accordance to Jeffrey Ding, a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford’s Middle for Worldwide Safety and Cooperation. 

One individual, one file “is a way of sorting information that makes it easier to track individuals,” stated Mareike Ohlberg, a Berlin-based senior fellow on the German Marshall Fund. 

China’s Division of Public Safety, which oversees regional police authorities, didn’t reply to a request for remark about one individual, one file and its surveillance uses. In addition to the police models, 10 bids have been opened by Chinese language Communist Social gathering our bodies accountable for political and authorized affairs. China’s Central Political and Authorized Affairs Fee declined to remark. 

The tenders examined by Reuters signify a fraction of such efforts by Chinese language police models and Social gathering our bodies to improve surveillance networks by tapping into the facility of huge information and AI, in accordance to three trade consultants interviewed for this story. 

In accordance to authorities paperwork, a number of the software’s customers, reminiscent of colleges, needed to monitor unfamiliar faces exterior their compounds. 

The bulk, reminiscent of police models in southwestern Sichuan province’s Ngawa prefecture, primarily populated by Tibetans, ordered it for extra specific safety functions. The Ngawa tender describes the software as being for “maintaining political security, social stability and peace among the people.” 

Ngawa’s division of public safety didn’t reply to requests for remark. 

Beijing says its monitoring is essential to combating crime and has been key to its efforts to combat the unfold of coronavirus illness 2019 (COVID-19). Human rights activists reminiscent of Human Rights Watch say that the nation is constructing a surveillance state that infringes on privateness and unfairly targets sure teams, such the Uyghur Muslim minority. 

The Reuters evaluation exhibits that native authorities throughout the nation, together with in extremely populated districts of Beijing and underdeveloped provinces like Gansu, have opened at the least 50 tenders within the 4 years because the first patent utility, 32 of which have been opened for bidding in 2021. Twenty-two tech corporations, together with Sensetime, Huawei, Megvii, Cloudwalk, Dahua, and the cloud division of Baidu, now provide such software, in accordance to a Reuters evaluation. 

Sensetime declined to remark. Megvii, Cloudwalk, Dahua, and the cloud division of Baidu didn’t reply to requests for remark. 

Huawei stated in an announcement {that a} companion had developed the one individual, one file utility in its good metropolis platform. The corporate declined to touch upon the patent functions. 

“Huawei does not develop or sell applications that target any specific group of people,” the corporate stated. 

The paperwork Reuters reviewed span 22 of China’s 31 predominant administrative divisions, and all ranges of provincial authorities, from regional public safety departments to Social gathering workplaces for a single neighborhood. 

The brand new programs purpose to make sense of the large troves of knowledge such entities gather, utilizing complicated algorithms and machine studying to create custom-made information for people, in accordance to the federal government tenders. The information replace themselves routinely because the software kinds information. 

A variety of challenges can complicate implementation, nonetheless. Paperwork and even value can create a fragmented and disjointed nationwide community, three AI and surveillance consultants informed Reuters. 

Reuters discovered bulletins for profitable bids for greater than half of the 50 procurement paperwork analyzed, with values between a number of million yuan and shut to 200 million yuan. 


China blanketed its cities with surveillance cameras in a 2015-2020 marketing campaign it described as “sharp eyes” and is striving to do the identical throughout rural areas. The event and adoption of the “one person, one file” software started across the identical time. 

Ms. Ohlberg, the researcher, stated the earliest point out she had seen of 1 individual, one file was from 2016, in a 200-page surveillance feasibility research by Shawan county in Xinjiang, for buying a pc system that might “automatically identify and investigate key persons involved in terrorism and (threatening social) stability.” A Shawan county official declined to remark. 

In 2016, China’s home safety chief on the time, Meng Jianzhu, wrote in a state-run journal that massive information was the important thing to discovering crime patterns and traits. Two years later, the system was referenced in a speech to trade executives given by Li Ziqing, then-director of the Analysis Middle for Biometrics and Safety Expertise of the state-run Chinese language Academy of Sciences. Li additionally was chief scientist at AuthenMetric, a Beijing-based facial recognition firm. Neither the analysis middle nor AuthenMetric responded to requests for remark. 

“The ultimate core technology of big data’s [application to] security is one person, one file,” Mr. Li stated within the 2018 speech at an AI discussion board in Shenzhen, in accordance to a transcript of the speech revealed by native media and shared on AuthenMetric’s WeChat public account. 

The Social gathering’s Political and Authorized Affairs Fee, which Mr. Meng led in 2016, declined to remark. Mr. Meng couldn’t be reached for remark. Mr. Li didn’t reply to a request for remark. 

The trade developed shortly. By 2021, Huawei, Sensetime, and 26 different Chinese language tech corporations had filed patent functions with the World Mental Property Group for file archiving and picture clustering algorithms. 

A 2021 Huawei patent utility for a “person database partitioning method and device” that talked about one individual, one file stated that “as smart cameras become more popular in the future, the number of captured facial images in a city will grow to trillions per year.” 


The 50 tenders Reuters analyzed give various quantities of element on how the software can be used. 

Some talked about “one person, one file” as a single entry on a listing of wanted objects for surveillance programs. Others gave detailed descriptions. 

9 of the tenders indicated the software can be used with facial recognition know-how that might, the paperwork specified, determine whether or not a passerby was Uyghur, connecting to early warning programs for the police and creating archives of Uyghur faces. 

One tender revealed in February 2020 by a Social gathering organ accountable for an space within the southeastern island province of Hainan, as an illustration, sought a database of Uyghur and Tibetan residents to facilitate “finding the information of persons involved in terrorism.” 

The Hainan authorities didn’t reply to a request for remark. 

Greater than a dozen tenders point out the necessity to fight terrorism and “maintain stability,” a catch-all time period that human rights activists say is usually used to imply repressing dissent. 

At the very least 4 of the tenders stated the software ought to find a way to pull data from the person’s social media accounts. Half of the tenders stated the software can be used to compile and analyze private particulars reminiscent of kin, social circles, automobile data, marriage standing, and procuring habits. — Eduardo Baptista/Reuters

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