I have three new articles at Mind Matters that cover the use of high-tech surveillance by the Chinese government. Mind Matters is a news site that is part of the Walter Bradley Center for Natural and Artificial Intelligence. The site covers the intersection of technology and society and addresses pressing issues, such as how tech companies are hurting democracy and whether artificial intelligence is as amazing (or threatening) as some say.

My first article gives an overview of how the Chinese government has turned the Xinjiang province in northwestern China into a veritable surveillance state worthy of an Orwellian story. The target group is the Uyghur peoples, an ethnically Turkish mainly Muslim group that protested in the capital of Xinjiang in 2009. Since then, and particularly since 2012 when President Xi Jinping started cracking down on religious groups that may be a threat to Chinese unity, over a million Uyghurs have been separated from their families and detained in internment camps. Those that have not been detained have had their cell phone activity—social media, texting, and conversations—tracked, and they have been followed via video surveillance that uses facial recognition systems.

My second and third articles look at how Uyghurs are required to provide biometric data to the police. This includes their genetic profile and voice samples, which was reportedly obtained through manipulative means.

Two Chinese tech companies lead the world in facial recognition and voice pattern recognition, and these companies provide systems that the Ministry of Public Safety uses to monitor and track Chinese citizens, particularly those in Xinjiang.

In researching these articles, I came across an online magazine called Bitter Winter that documents violations in human rights and religious liberties in China. The publication is edited by Massimo Introvigne and has correspondents throughout all of China, many of whom write with pseudonyms for their protection.

The magazine’s stories forced me to examine how much I take for granted the liberties we have in the U.S. While we go to our respective places of worship every week, we have brothers and sisters whose churches are being torn down because they didn’t register with the state, or whose pastors are required to have a camera at the pulpit facing the congregation, so the government can identify who is attending.  

My task for Mind Matters is to write about how technology can be misused, but these stories are really about how power can be misused—an old concept dressed in modern trappings.