China’s central government is monitoring the everyday activities of 13 million Muslim citizens in its far-West Xinjiang province, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported on Wednesday.

Thirty-six behaviour “types” elicit investigation—including leaving your phone switched off, not refuelling your own car and not coming home through your front door.

From 2018 to 2019, HRW studied the mobile app Chinese officials use to access the Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJOP), a digital policing system which processes and stores citizen surveillance data.

HRW discovered Chinese authorities combine physical checkpoints and digital flagging to create virtual “sieves” throughout the Xinjiang region, which track undesirable individuals and constrict their movement.

When “suspect” people go to shopping malls or try to travel beyond their town, they are frequently arrested and taken into police custody.

This comes after a prolonged crackdown on Chinese ethnic minorities—involving mass internment camps for forced ideological indoctrination.

Now, HRW’s report reveals a comprehensive system which coordinates GPS, facial recognition, and biometric information to surveil citizens in their day-to-day, prompting outrage.

But European authorities have also cited legal actions—such as donating to one’s mosque—as evidence of radical Islamism. And police argue some degree of surveillance is necessary to prevent violence.

Should governments track lawful behaviour at scale?

 

Credit for this article's header image goes to Getty.