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China: mobile app sucks up data from citizens in the Xinjiang region – apps, religious beliefs, VPN access and more

Everyone's behavior is under a microscope.

Human Rights Watch has announced that it has spent a year reverse-engineering a mobile app, used by the Chinese government in the country’s troubled Xinjiang region for intrusive collection of personal data of local citizens.

The New York-based international NGO said that the app – used to connect to the Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJOP) – whose design was “publicly available at the time” – is a tool of mass illegal surveillance, a part of Chinese government’s repressive activities affecting as many as 13 million local Muslims.

The declared goal of the system is to fight violent terrorism.

TechCrunch writes about the report, noting that Human Rights Watch is now urging international sanctions against those involved in the events in Xinjiang, that include arbitrary detentions and restrictions on the freedom of movement.

The app in question, meanwhile, is said to combine data fed to it by police officers and that gathered from security cameras, covering a wide range of information and activities, and profiling potential suspects by their personal information, lifestyle, and habits.

The Chinese government wants to know whether the targeted persons are using VPNs to access the internet, what apps are installed on their phones, as well as their religious and political views – in this way, Human Rights Watch said, abusing information about lawful behaviors as a tool against those under the microscope.

Those who have stopped using their phones or aren’t prone to socializing with neighbors, or collect funds for local mosques, are among categories marked to be particularly scrutinized. Another thing setting off alarm bells is unusually high electricity consumption, the report said.

The developer of the IJOP system is China’s military-owned contractor China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (CETC), and its basics are similar to other surveillance systems used throughout the country, Human Rights Watch observed.

TechCrunch describes it as “Big Brother-like” – but notes that on the bright side, the app is not a sophisticated piece of software, as it by and large requires manual input of data.

Nevertheless, Human Rights Watch is urging the Chinese government to immediately end the program and delete the data amassed thus far.

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