Morning Update: Inside The Surveillance Nightmare Unfolding In China

Morning Update: Inside The Surveillance Nightmare Unfolding In China

A deep dive into how China is organizing what is easily the world’s most sophisticated persecution campaign. Your BuzzFeed News newsletter, September 7.

Posted on September 7, 2018, at 7:28 a.m. ET

You need to know about the world’s most advanced surveillance state

In Xinjiang, a four-hour flight from Beijing, a nightmare is unfolding. China is organizing what is easily the world’s most sophisticated persecution campaign.

The remote western region is home to a Muslim ethnic minority called the Uighurs. China has accused them of forming separatist groups and fueling terrorism. Since last year, thousands of Uighurs and other ethnic minorities have disappeared into what the state calls “political education centers.”

Their apparent offenses? Using Western social media apps or studying abroad in Muslim countries, according to relatives of those detained.

In Xinjiang, growing a beard can get you reported to the police. So can naming your child Muhammad.


Here’s the thing: That’s only the what of the story. The how is also deeply terrifying.

The 21st-century surveillance state

There’s the human policing: In Xinjiang, driving or taking a bus to a neighboring town, you’d hit checkpoints where armed police officers might search your phone for banned apps like Facebook or Twitter. They might scroll through your text messages to see if you’ve used any religious language.

Then there’s the technology: China’s government has invested heavily in top-of-the-line surveillance tech in the region, from facial recognition cameras at petrol stations to drones that patrol the border.

All the data is catalogued in a database that’s then used to identify potential threats.

One human rights advocate put it quite succinctly: “It’s an open prison.”


But it goes further than that

The state is pressuring Uighurs who are abroad to spy on fellow exiles. How do they convince them? With the threat of sending family members to the secretive reeducation camps.

China is also offering free physical exams in Xinjiang — to gather and store biological data from millions of people. The data ranges from DNA samples to iris scans.

As our reporter writes, “It’s a corner of the country that has become a window into the possible dystopian future of surveillance technology, wielded by states like China that have both the capital and the political will to monitor — and repress — minority groups.”


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