Chinese province targets journalists, foreign students with planned new surveillance system
Beijing (Reuters) – Security officials in one of China’s largest provinces have commissioned a surveillance system they say they want to use to track journalists and international students among other “suspicious people”, documents reviewed by Reuters showed.
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.
A 5 million yuan ($782,000) contract was awarded on Sept. 17 to Chinese tech company Neusoft (600718.SS), which was required to finish building the system within two months of signing the contract, separate documents published on the Henan government procurement website showed. Reuters was unable to establish if the system is currently operating.
Shenyang-based Neusoft did not respond to requests for comment.
China is trying to build what some security experts describe as one of the world’s most sophisticated surveillance technology networks, with millions of cameras in public places and increasing use of techniques such as smartphone monitoring and facial recognition.
U.S.-based surveillance research firm IPVM, which has closely tracked the network’s expansion and first identified the Henan document, said the tender was unique in specifying journalists as surveillance targets and providing a blueprint for public security authorities to quickly locate them and obstruct their work.
“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 was unable to 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 China’s Foreign Ministry also did not comment.