China makes use of AI software program to enhance its surveillance capabilities

Cody Logan / Wikimedia Commons

BEIJING — Dozens of Chinese language companies have constructed software program that makes use of synthetic intelligence (AI) to kind information collected on residents, amid excessive demand from authorities searching for to improve their surveillance instruments, a Reuters assessment of presidency paperwork reveals. 

In keeping with greater than 50 publicly obtainable paperwork examined by Reuters, dozens of entities in China have over the previous 4 years purchased such software program, referred to as “one particular person, one file.” The know-how improves on current software program, which merely collects information however leaves it to folks to prepare. 

“The system has the power to study independently and might optimize the accuracy of file creation as the quantity of knowledge will increase. [Faces that are] partially blocked, masked, or sporting glasses, and low-resolution portraits can be archived comparatively precisely,” in line with 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 makes use of. 

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

One other limitation of present surveillance software program is its incapability to attach a person’s private particulars to a real-time location besides at safety checkpoints equivalent to these in airports, in line with Jeffrey Ding, a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford’s Heart for Worldwide Safety and Cooperation. 

One particular person, one file “is a means of sorting info that makes it simpler to trace people,” 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 particular person, one file and its surveillance makes use of. Moreover the police items, 10 bids have been opened by Chinese language Communist Occasion our bodies answerable 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 items and Occasion our bodies to improve surveillance networks by tapping into the facility of huge information and AI, in line with three trade consultants interviewed for this story. 

In keeping with authorities paperwork, among the software program’s customers, equivalent to colleges, wished to watch unfamiliar faces exterior their compounds. 

The bulk, equivalent to police items in southwestern Sichuan province’s Ngawa prefecture, primarily populated by Tibetans, ordered it for extra specific safety functions. The Ngawa tender describes the software program as being for “sustaining political safety, social stability and peace among the many folks.” 

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 battle the unfold of coronavirus illness 2019 (COVID-19). Human rights activists equivalent to 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 assessment reveals 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 software, 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 program, in line with a Reuters assessment. 

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} accomplice had developed the one particular person, one file software in its sensible metropolis platform. The corporate declined to touch upon the patent purposes. 

“Huawei doesn’t develop or promote purposes that concentrate on any particular group of individuals,” the corporate stated. 

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

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

A variety of challenges can complicate implementation, nonetheless. Forms and even price can create a fragmented and disjointed nationwide community, three AI and surveillance consultants advised Reuters. 

Reuters discovered bulletins for profitable bids for greater than half of the 50 procurement paperwork analyzed, with values between just a few million yuan and near 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 particular person, one file” software program started across the similar time. 

Ms. Ohlberg, the researcher, stated the earliest point out she had seen of 1 particular person, one file was from 2016, in a 200-page surveillance feasibility research by Shawan county in Xinjiang, for buying a pc system that would “routinely establish and examine key individuals concerned 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 large information was the important thing to discovering crime patterns and tendencies. Two years later, the system was referenced in a speech to trade executives given by Li Ziqing, then-director of the Analysis Heart 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 last word core know-how of huge information’s [application to] safety is one particular person, one file,” Mr. Li stated within the 2018 speech at an AI discussion board in Shenzhen, in line with a transcript of the speech revealed by native media and shared on AuthenMetric’s WeChat public account. 

The Occasion’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 rapidly. By 2021, Huawei, Sensetime, and 26 different Chinese language tech corporations had filed patent purposes with the World Mental Property Group for file archiving and picture clustering algorithms. 

A 2021 Huawei patent software for a “particular person database partitioning methodology and machine” that talked about one particular person, one file stated that “as sensible cameras develop into extra common sooner or later, the variety of captured facial pictures in a metropolis will develop to trillions per 12 months.” 


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

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

9 of the tenders indicated the software program can be used with facial recognition know-how that would, the paperwork specified, establish 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 Occasion organ answerable for an space within the southeastern island province of Hainan, for example, sought a database of Uyghur and Tibetan residents to facilitate “discovering the knowledge of individuals concerned 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 “keep stability,” a catch-all time period that human rights activists say is usually used to imply repressing dissent. 

No less than 4 of the tenders stated the software program ought to be capable to pull info from the person’s social media accounts. Half of the tenders stated the software program can be used to compile and analyze private particulars equivalent to kinfolk, social circles, car data, marriage standing, and purchasing habits. — Eduardo Baptista/Reuters


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