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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

China develops data-mining tools to discover terrorists

China is using its extensive surveillance capabilities to create what it calls a "unified information environment." The big data platform will be used to detect "precrime" activity which could allow authorities to catch terrorists before they act.

The database will allow authorities to profile citizens on the basis of a number of different behaviors including online activity, financial transactions, travel, and contacts. Authorities look for deviations from what is considered normal to detect suspicious activity. The technology China is using was pioneered in the U.S.
Patrick Tucker, of Defense One reports:"..the Chinese government is leveraging "predictive policing" capabilities that have been used by US law enforcement, and it has funded research into machine learning and other artificial intelligence technologies to identify human faces in surveillance video. The Chinese government has also used this technology to create a "Situation-Aware Public Security Evaluation (SAPE) platform" that predicts "security events" based on surveillance data, which includes anything from actual terrorist attacks to large gatherings of people."
The Chinese government has plenty of data for the system. It has invested a great deal of money in surveillance capabilities in major cities over the past five years. Spending on "domestic security and stability" has been more than the Chinese defense budget. The government has also passed new anti-terrorism laws that give it more surveillance powers and also require any technology companies doing business in China to provide assistance in technology. China is becoming a prime market for security technology although the U.S. is stiff competition.
The U.S. has already experience with predictive policing. As far back as 1994, the New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton pioneered an effort in which police deployed units to where crime was expected based on crime statistics. This program, called CompStat, saw a decrease in crime of 37 percent in three years. However, it also involved a "stop and frisk" policy. Minority youth were often targeted and harassed by police. The frisking was unconstitutional.
China now has rules that the US intelligence community can only envy:The law states that companies “shall provide technical interfaces, decryption and other technical support and assistance to public security and state security agencies when they are following the law to avert and investigate terrorist activities”—in other words, the sort of "golden key" that FBI Director James Comey has lobbied for in the US. For obvious reasons, the Chinese government is particularly interested in the outcome of the current legal confrontation between the FBI and Apple over the iPhone used by Syed Farook.
The state-owned defense contractor China Electronics Technology Group is developing software that can mine online activities, financial transactions, behavioral data, and other factors to predict the risk of citizens carrying out terrorist attacks:The system could watch for unexpected transfers of money, calls overseas by individuals with no relatives outside the country, and other trigger events that might indicate they were plotting an illegal action. China's definition of "terrorism" is more expansive than that of other countries..
Wu Manging, the chief engineer of the China Electronics Technology Group, said: "We don’t call it a big data platform, but a united information environment… It’s very crucial to examine the cause after an act of terror, but what is more important is to predict the upcoming activities.”
A somewhat technical paper on a Situation-Aware Public Security Evaluation (SAPE) can be found here. Given the vast amount of information that China has from surveillance of its citizens, the SAPE platform could be used as a means of predicting protests and harassing activists as well as dealing with crime or terrorism..
Armed with data from spying on its citizens, Beijing could turn "predictive policing" into a tool of repression. The development of the SAPE platform takes place as there has been greater repression of any opposition in China: ".. China is in the midst of a severe crackdown on free speech, online information, human rights, and media. Since President Xi Jinping took office in 2012, outspoken citizens have been silenced, human rights lawyers jailed, restrictions on online and broadcast television increased, and journalists who report on politically sensitive issues face jail time."Surprisingly, there has been increasing resistance to these moves and criticism of the crackdown. Even more surprising is that some of the criticism is coming from advisers to the Communist Party, at the annual meetings of National People's Congress and the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, at which 5,000 officials, bureaucrats and advisers meet to discuss China's future. Usually, these meetings are staid, predictable and carefully scripted. However, some advisers obviously disagree with the program and are saying so. The criticism is even reported in the press.
Some established academics are speaking out against censorship through removing critical papers from websites and publications. Jian Hong, a professor at the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, who has had his articles removed from sites, said: In order to curb corruption, we must carry forth reform of the political system. [In order] to contain power within the cages of regulation, we must completely eradicate the roots of corruption from the soil. This is what democracy is.Hong has been outspoken in his criticism of authorities trying to censor free speech.Perhaps there will soon be criticism of the new SAPE platform within China.

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