By Bradley A. Smith
China’s latest technological innovations dovetail all too neatly with its anti-democratic practices. As has widely been reported, Beijing exploits tech to surveil and spy on its citizens, publicly shame those who owe debt or commit minor infractions such as jaywalking, implement social credit score systems, and censor dissent.
Now, per a harrowing yet hardly surprising new report: “Patent applications belonging to Huawei and a group of China-based artificial intelligence companies” have been filed for technology that can be deployed to detect Uyghur Muslims.
Back in 2019, secret documents detailed the alarming depths of China’s alleged use of “widespread surveillance technology to monitor the region’s Uyghur population,” which has been identified as a repressed group by a host of global governments and now the victim of “genocide and crimes against humanity” by the U.S. government.
The Chinese regime’s technological tactics aim to usher in a “new form of social control using data and artificial intelligence,” according to an Associated Press report on the documents. By “drawing on data collected by mass surveillance technology,” for instance, “computers issued the names of tens of thousands of people for interrogation or detention in just one week.” The vast system “targets, surveils and grades entire ethnicities to forcibly assimilate and subdue them.”
Recent Chinese AI patent applications, meanwhile, now threaten to add a fresh, frightening capability to Beijing’s surveillance arsenal: facial recognition software that could be used to detect Uyghurs and, subsequently, to alert the authorities of their movements and activities.
Such actions underscore the regime’s commitment to its goal of “algorithmic governance.” In addition to its “sweeping effort to eradicate online political content,” Beijing has banned “everything from tattoos to religious proselytizing, violations of ‘mainstream values,’ flirtatious dancing, images of leaders, and Western political critiques.” China’s aggressive use of technology is a harbinger of the type of harm that could follow if foreign nations, with values diametrically opposed to ours, succeed in spreading a vision for a closed internet to countries around the world.