China is trying to build what is being referred to as the world’s most sophisticated surveillance system. According to Reuters, security officials have authorized a surveillance system in the Henan province of China to track journalists, foreign students, and other ‘suspicious’ individuals. On the website of Henan’s provincial government, a 200-page tender document describes plans for a system that can compile information about individuals of interest.
The facial recognition system will use 3,000 cameras that will connect to a variety of national and regional databases. Chinese tech company Neusoft has been awarded a $782,000 contract. The company was expected to create the system within two months of signing the contract, according to Reuters, citing separate documents published on Henan’s government procurement website. IPVM, a surveillance research firm in the US, had closely tracked the expansion of the network and identified the Henan document first. As a result, the tender specifically mentioned journalists as ‘surveillance targets’ and provided a blueprint for locating them and hindering their work.
According to the tender document, the cameras should be designed so that they create accurate files even if the faces of the individuals are covered by masks or glasses. The database should allow for easy searching of those who are targeted by uploading a photo. According to the tender, ‘suspicious persons must be tracked and controlled, dynamic analysis and risk assessments performed, and journalists must be treated with respect to their category’. The Henan Public Security Department does not specify why it wants to track journalists and international students.
The tender document does not allow public access to the tender document for women from neighbouring countries. According to IPVM’s Head of Operations Donald Maye, although the PRC has a documented history of detaining and punishing journalists for doing their work, this document illustrates a first-time use of custom security technology to streamline state suppression of journalists. So far, neither the police nor the government of Henan has responded to the request for comment.