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  • Kyle Chua

Chinese Province Building Custom Surveillance System Specifically Targeting Journalists

The Chinese province of Henan is building a custom surveillance system that specifically targets journalists and other “suspicious people”, according to government documents obtained by Reuters.

Credit: Andy Wong via AP

The system is capable of compiling individual files on people of concern, pulling data from over 3,000 facial recognition cameras that are connected to national and regional databases. It will also use a "traffic-light" scheme to classify journalists into different categories, namely green, yellow and red. Journalists in the red category are of key concern. Those marked yellow are people of general concern, while those marked green aren’t considered harmful.

Henan security officials will reportedly be alerted once a journalist of concern, either marked red or yellow, enters the province.

"Suspicious persons must be tailed and controlled, dynamic research analyses and risk assessments made, and the journalists dealt with according to their category," the document reads.

The document additionally specifies that the system must be able to identify individuals even if their faces are partially covered by a mask or glasses. They must also be searchable in the database based on their facial attributes or through an uploaded photo.

The system will also track foreign students and migrant women.

Credit: Carlos Garcia Rawlins via Reuters

Chinese software firm Neusoft was awarded the contract for the new surveillance system on 17 September with a budget of 5 million yuan and a two-month build period. Reuters, however, was unable to establish if the system is now operational.

The Henan provincial government and police did not respond to the media’s requests for comment, nor did Neusoft.

U.S.-based surveillance research firm IPVM points out that this is the first time the Chinese government has singled out journalists as targets in its surveillance operations.

"The technical architecture of mass surveillance in China remains poorly understood... but building custom surveillance technology to streamline state suppression of journalists is new," Conor Healy, Government Director of IPVM, told BBC News.

Reuters notes that the document did not state why the custom surveillance system is targeting journalists and students specifically. Public access to the document has since been disabled.

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