China: Where Technology Threatens Human Rights
Thu, 11 Jul 2019 || By Theodore Great

China’s rate of technological advancement has been one of the highest in the world. Currently, it is on the 3rd rank of AI ecosystem development[1]. Moreover, the government even already set the target to be the world’s AI leader by 2030, tackling the US technological leadership[2]. This goal was established to maximize the advantages that technology has and will bring towards China, mainly on economic development. However, as many have argued, the Chinese model could succeed because it could maintain the stability of the country by repressing the citi[an1] [TA2] [TA3] zen’s rights through the central planning system. As a result, the government is not hesitant to utilize technology to preserve the balance of the government. Thus, this has also increased international concerns. This commentary will discuss the reasons behind these concerns. 

China’s Mass Surveillance Application

 In February 2018, Human Rights Watch found out that an application named IJOP is used by authorities to gather citizen’s data and behavior including the ability to create alerts towards the government if the application algorithm deemed the person to be threatening and required further investigation. One of the usage of IJOP is towards the minorities in China such as the Turkic Muslims and ethnic Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Even before IJOP, these groups have been exposed to various measures of detention to integrate them towards the society including in the prohibition of massively expressing their beliefs or identities in public[3].

Some of the actions and behaviors that are considered suspicious by the algorithm are the usage of VPN or other banned applications in China, the conduct of religious practices without government consent, the usage of electricity surpasses the typical usage, the possession of a mobile phone that is not registered, etc. These data are manually inputted to the system by officers who interview citizens. Besides manual data input, the application could also gather data from Wi-Fi networks. After processing the data, IJOP could create alerts and assigns different police levels which citizens they must interrogate or bring to political detention[4].

China’s Social Rating System

The social rating system in China aims to maintain harmony in the society and ensuring the citizens to behave appropriately by incentivizing good behavior while penalizing the bad. Taking the data from private companies, CCTV, government records, and so forth, the social rating system gives an ID to a person, and they will be scored based on their behavior. For example, if someone violates specific laws such as not paying government money or disturb society by being too loud in public, they could lose some of their rights. There are v[an4] [TA5] [an6] arious pilot projects of this social rating system with different lists of good and bad behavior, along with the associated rewards and punishment[5].

Conclusion

Although both applications are not yet nationally used in China, they already show significant violations towards human rights, mainly towards the rights of privacy and the presumption of innocence unless proven otherwise. In both systems, the algorithm becomes the deciding factor for whether a person should be penalized or not. These contradict the principles underlying the international human rights treaties that China has agreed such as the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination[6]. Both cases have shown how technology could massively be used to secure society at the expense of their human rights. Although this happened in China that most labeled for not being under democracy, everyone has the same human rights regardless of their nationality. Therefore, they have the absolute right to be protected. Moreover, prevention of the adoption of such a system in other countries must be done as actually the social credit system has been implemented in banks and other institutions but not as detailed as the Chinese case[7]. All in all, the case of China rises concerns towards the international human rights treaties in order to adapt and enforce human rights both offline and online.

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Editor: Anisa Pratita Mantovani

 

[1] Asgard and Roland Berger, 2018. Artificial Intelligence – A strategy for European startups. Recommendations for policymakers.

[2] State Council Department, 2017. New Generation of Artificial Intelligence Development Plan. Available at: .

[3] Human Rights Watch, 2019. China’s Algorithms of Repression | Reverse Engineering a Xinjiang Police Mass Surveillance App. [online] Human Rights Watch. Available at: [Accessed 28 May 2019].

[4] Ibid.

[5] Kobie, N., 2019. The complicated truth about China’s social credit system. [online] Wired.co.uk. Available at: [Accessed 28 May 2019].

[6] OHCHR, 2019. OHCHR Dashboard. [online] Available at: [Accessed 28 May 2019].

[7] Kobie, N., 2019. The complicated truth about China’s social credit system. [online] Wired.co.uk. Available at: [Accessed 28 May 2019].