Human Rights Watch reverse-engineered the app that the Chinese state uses to spy on people in Xinjiang

China's Xinjiang province is home to the country's Uyghur ethnic minority and other people of Turkic Muslim descent; it has become a living laboratory for next-generation, electronically mediated totalitarianism; up to 1,000,000 people have been sent to concentration/torture camps in the region, and targets for rendition ot these camps come via compulsory mobile apps that spy on residents in every conceivable way (naturally, war criminal Eric "Blackwater" Prince, brother of billionaire heiress Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, is into this stuff up to his eyeballs, as are other American collaborators).

Key to maintaining the Chinese control over the region is the Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJOP, which authorities use to spy on the population and each other. IJOP was created by the Hebei Far East Communication System Engineering Company, a subsidiary of the state-owned China Electronics Technology Group Corporation.

Authorities interact with IJOP using an app, and after Human Rights Watch acquired a copy of this app, they contracted with Berlin's Cure53 to reverse engineer it. Now, they have published a massive, comprehensive, chilling report that provides the most thorough look into the cutting edge of Chinese high-tech totalitarianism ever seen.

This is significant because Xinjiang is a beta-test for the rest of China. Earlier surveillance techniques that were pioneered on Uyghurs have had their rough edges smoothed out and then were rolled out for all Chinese people. And, thanks to the Belt-and-Road initiative, the Chinese state is gradually exporting much of their high-tech totalitarianism to client states around the Pacific Rim, sub-Saharan Africa, and elsewhere. This is the Chinese version of the shitty technology adoption curve: when you have a terrible, dehumanizing technological idea, you need to try it out first on people whose complaints go unheeded: prisoners, people on welfare, blue-collar and gig-economy workers, migrants and refugees, mental patients, kids. These people are used as involuntary testers for bad ideas, and the technologies that can be refined and normalized eventually find their way into everyone else's world.

The IJOP app reveals that people in Xinjiang can be flagged for activities as innocuous as "not using the front door" or "not socializing with neighbors," as well as using any of 51 network tools, including VPNs, Whatsapp and Viber. The system automatically flags residents who use a phone not registered to them, or who use more electricity than their neighbors, or who leave their assigned residential area without police permission. The app dispatches officers to investigate people who get new phone numbers or who socialize with foreigners.

The app also monitors the police, scoring officers on how many people they monitor, and how promptly they perform the tasks the system assigns to them.

Human Rights Watch points out that "many -- perhaps all-- of the mass surveillance practices described in this report appear to be contrary to Chinese law." But that isn't stopping anyone.

The intrusive, massive collection of personal information through the IJOP app helps explain reports by Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang that government officials have asked them or their family members a bewildering array of personal questions. When government agents conduct intrusive visits to Muslims’ homes and offices, for example, they typically ask whether the residents own exercise equipment and how they communicate with families who live abroad; it appears that such officials are fulfilling requirements sent to them through apps such as the IJOP app. The IJOP app does not require government officials to inform the people whose daily lives are pored over and logged the purpose of such intrusive data collection or how their information is being used or stored, much less obtain consent for such data collection.

The Strike Hard Campaign has shown complete disregard for the rights of Turkic Muslims to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. In Xinjiang, authorities have created a system that considers individuals suspicious based on broad and dubious criteria, and then generates lists of people to be evaluated by officials for detention. Official documents state that individuals “who ought to be taken, should be taken,” suggesting the goal is to maximize the number of people they find “untrustworthy” in detention. Such people are then subjected to police interrogation without basic procedural protections. They have no right to legal counsel, and some are subjected to torture and mistreatment, for which they have no effective redress, as we have documented in our September 2018 report. The result is Chinese authorities, bolstered by technology, arbitrarily and indefinitely detaining Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang en masse for actions and behavior that are not crimes under Chinese law.

China’s Algorithms of Repression [Full report/Human Rights Watch]

How Mass Surveillance Works in Xinjiang, China [Summary/Human Rights Watch]