Officials in China’s Henan province, one of the country’s largest provinces, plan to install a surveillance system to spy on journalists, international students, and other individuals who could pose a security risk to the Chinese regime.
Per the system’s blueprint, 3,000 facial recognition cameras connected to national and regional databases will be installed to scan for the identities of “suspicious people” who the government would like to monitor, according to documents Reuters reviewed on the Henan province procurement website.
The documents revealed that the government enlisted Chinese tech company Neusoft on September 17 to construct the system for five million yuan with a deadline of two months from contract signing. While the project’s due date has technically expired, it has not been confirmed whether the system is yet in operation.
The cameras are expected to be sensitive enough identify individuals whose faces are obscured by glasses or a mask, according to the tender document. The system is supposed to function so that officials can easily find a person of interest in the database by uploading their photo or searching for their facial characteristics.
Journalists will receive risk assessments in the system of red, yellow, or green, depending on how serious of a threat the government determines them to be. At least 2,000 officials and police officers will be automatically notified if a situation arises with a targeted journalist, according to the tender document. Officers could receive an alarm notification demanding action, for example, if a journalist checks into a hotel, buys a ticket, or crosses the border into 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 tender document says.
Henan’s new surveillance mechanism represents an escalation in the Chinese Communist Party’s state censorship campaign of journalism and other independent thought that is deemed critical of the regime. U.S.-based surveillance research company IPVM, which first discovered the Henan document, told Reuters that the project specifically serves to target, limit, and potentially penalize journalists.
“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,” IPVM’S Head of Operations Donald Maye said in regards to the Chinese government.
While the tender is believed to be intended to expose and track journalists, the website page also lists more obscure demographics of people such as “women from neighbouring countries that are illegal residents.”
The tender document detailing the plans for the system could no longer be accessed as of Monday.