EXCLUSIVE Chinese province targets journalists and foreign students with new surveillance system planned

BEIJING, Nov. 29 (Reuters) – Security officials in one of China’s largest provinces have set up a surveillance system they say they want to use to track journalists and international students among others. ” suspicious people, “documents examined by Reuters showed.

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

A 5 million yuan ($ 782,000) contract was awarded on September 17 to Chinese technology company Neusoft (600718.SS), which was due to complete construction of the system within two months of signing the contract, documents separate published on the Henan government procurement website. show. Reuters could not establish whether the system is currently working.

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Shenyang-based Neusoft did not respond to requests for comment.

China is trying to build what some security experts describe as one of the most sophisticated surveillance technology networks in the world, with millions of cameras in public places and increasing use of techniques such as smartphone surveillance and facial recognition.

US-based surveillance research firm IPVM, which has closely followed the network’s expansion and first identified the Henan document, said the tender was unique in that it specified journalists as the targets of surveillance and provided a plan for public security authorities to locate them quickly and obstruct their work.

“Although the PRC has a documented history of detaining and punishing journalists for doing their jobs, this document illustrates the first known example of the PRC building custom security technology to streamline the crackdown on journalists by the PRC. ‘State,’ said IPVM chief operating officer Donald Maye, using the initials of the People’s Republic of China.

Reuters could not find any documents identifying journalists or foreigners as specific targets of surveillance systems in other parts of China.

The Henan provincial government and police did not respond to requests for comment. The Ministry of Public Security and the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs also did not comment.

“TAIL AND CONTROLLED”

The nearly 200-page tender document from the Henan Public Security Department does not give the reasons why it wants to hunt down journalists or international students. Another category of people he said he wanted to follow were “women from neighboring countries who are illegal residents”.

Public access to the tender document was disabled on Monday.

The cameras specified in the tender document must be able to constitute a relatively accurate file for people whose face is partially covered by a mask or glasses, and the targeted persons must be searchable in the database. data by simply uploading an image or searching for their facial attributes.

The system will be operated by at least 2,000 officials and police, and specifies that journalists will be divided into three categories: red, yellow, green, in descending order of risk, according to the call for tenders.

Various police forces covering the whole of Henan, whose 99 million inhabitants make it the third largest province in China by population, will be connected to the platform in order to take action in the event of a warning, the call explains. offers.

Warnings will be triggered if a reporter in Henan checks into a hotel, purchases a ticket or crosses the provincial border, according to the tender.

“Suspicious persons must be monitored and controlled, dynamic research analyzes and risk assessments must be carried out, and journalists treated according to their category,” the tender said.

The call for tenders also detailed various early warning systems for other groups.

MEDIA CONTROL

Some press freedom groups claim that the ruling Communist Party of China has tightened its control over the media since Chinese President Xi Jinping took office in 2012.

In February, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC) said China had used coronavirus prevention measures, intimidation and visa restrictions to limit foreign reporting in 2020, citing responses to an annual survey by correspondents and interviews with office managers.

The then Chinese Foreign Ministry called the FCCC report “baseless” and said China still welcomes media and journalists from all countries to cover news in China according to the law. “What we are opposed to are ideological prejudices against China and fake news in the name of press freedom,” a spokesperson said.

While most of the Henan document refers to journalists, several segments specify “foreign journalists”.

In October last year, the Henan government posted on its sourcing platform for potential suppliers a brief summary of the proposed project in which it said the system would be “outsider-centric” and help “protect sovereignty, security and national interests ”.

The contract was put out to tender on July 29, days after foreign journalists from the BBC, LA Times, Agence France-Presse and others reporting on the devastating flooding in Henan were the target of a nationalist campaign on the heavily censored Chinese social media platform Weibo.

The FCCC said at the time she was “very concerned to witness the online and offline harassment of journalists” covering the floods. He describes how, for example, a Weibo account asked its 1.6 million subscribers to report the whereabouts of a foreign reporter covering the floods.

The tender also stated that the system should be able to track the movement of international students through methods such as cell phone positioning and travel bookings, especially on key dates such as National Day. country or the annual session of parliament.

“On sensitive dates, launch an early warning mechanism in time of war”, we can read.

($ 1 = 6.3924 yuan Chinese renminbi)

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Report by the Beijing press room; Editing by Lincoln Feast.

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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