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Exclusive-Chinese province targets journalists, foreign students with planned new surveillance system -Breaking

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© Reuters. As cars pass by, a security camera monitors the street in Beijing (China), November 24, 2021. Picture taken November 24, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

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BEIJING, (Reuters) – Security officers in China’s most populous provinces ordered a surveillance system to be used to monitor journalists, international students and other suspects. Documents reviewed by Reuters revealed that this was the case.

A July 29 tender document published on the Henan provincial government’s procurement website – reported in the media for the first time – details plans for a system that can compile individual files on such persons of interest coming to Henan using 3,000 facial recognition cameras that connect to various national and regional databases.

Neusoft, a Chinese technology company, was granted a 5 million yuan contract ($782,000) on September 17. Separate documents on the Henan government procurement portal showed that Neusoft had to complete the construction of the system in two months. Reuters couldn’t determine if this system was in operation.

Neusoft, Shenyang’s software company, didn’t respond to any requests for comment.

China is trying to build what some security experts describe as one of the world’s most sophisticated surveillance technology networks https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-monitoring-insight-idUSKBN1KZ0R3, with millions of cameras in public places and increasing use of techniques such as smartphone monitoring and facial recognition.

The U.S. surveillance firm IPVM has been closely following the expansion of the network and identified the Henan document. It said that the tender is unique because it specifies journalists as surveillance targets. This blueprint allows public security officials to locate and block their work quickly.

“While the PRC has a documented history of detaining and punishing journalists for doing their jobs, this document illustrates the first known instance of the PRC building custom security technology to streamline state suppression of journalists,” said IPVM’S Head of Operations Donald Maye, using the initials of the People’s Republic of China.

Reuters couldn’t find documents that could identify journalists or other foreigners targeted in surveillance systems elsewhere in China.

Requests for comments were not answered by the Henan police and provincial government. Both the Ministry of Public Security and China’s Foreign Ministry did not respond to requests for comment.

“TAILED and CONTROLLED.”

Nearly 200 pages of tender documents from Henan Public Security Department do not explain why they want to monitor journalists and international students. It also stated that it wanted to monitor “women from neighboring countries who are illegally resident”

On Monday, the public was denied access to the tender documents.

According to the tender, cameras should be capable of creating a fairly accurate file that includes faces partially covered with glasses or masks. The database must also allow for search by uploading photos or by searching facial attributes.

At least 2,000 police officers and staff will manage the system. According to the tender it is divided into three types of journalists: yellow, red and green. This will reduce risk.

The tender states that different police departments covering Henan (home to 99 million people) will connect to the platform to be able to respond to a warning.

A tender will notify journalists if they register in a hotel, purchase a ticket or cross the border into Henan.

The tender states that “suspicious individuals must be controlled and tailed, with dynamic risk analyses and risk assessments being made and journalists treated according to their classification.”

Other early warning systems were also described in the tender.

MEDIA CONTROL

Some media freedom organizations claim that the Chinese Communist Party, which controls China’s Communist Party, has increased its control over media coverage since Chinese President Xi Jinping was elected in 2012.

In February, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC) said China used coronavirus prevention measures https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-media-idUSKCN2AT182, intimidation and visa curbs to limit foreign reporting in 2020, citing responses to an annual survey of correspondents and interviews with bureau chiefs.

China’s foreign ministry at that time called FCCC’s reports “baseless” but stated that China welcomed journalists from all nations to report on news in China. A spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry stated that they oppose ideological bias against China as well fake news under the banner of press freedom.

Although most of Henan documents refer to journalists, there are segments that specifically mention “foreign journalists”.

The Henan government posted a brief summary of its project on October 2013 on their procurement platform. It stated that the system was “centred upon foreigners” to “protect national sovereignty and security as well as interests.”

After foreign reporters from LA Times, BBC and Agence France-Presse reported on the devastating flooding in Henan, the contract was made available for tender July 29.

The FCCC said at the time https://twitter.com/fccchina/status/1419946356995629057 it was “very concerned to witness the online and offline harassment of journalists” covering the floods. One Weibo account requested its 1.5 million followers to report on the location of a foreign journalist covering the floods.

According to the tender, the system must be capable of tracking international student movements using methods like mobile phone positioning or travel bookings. This is especially important during crucial dates such as national days and annual sessions of parliament.

The text read: “On…sensitive date, launch a Wartime Early Warning Mechanism.”

($1 = 6.3924 renminbi)



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