02/15/2024, 17.14
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Beijing uses artificial intelligence against Tibetans via a mandatory mobile phone app

Turquoise Roof reports that Tibetans are forced at checkpoints to install an "anti-fraud" system that actually sends personal data to the police. A database powered by US IT giant Oracle analyses millions of messages to block any assertions of local identity.

Milan (AsiaNews/Agencies) – “On our way home during school vacation, we have to go through numerous checkpoints. Our luggage and backpacks, other accessories, and even mobile phones are scanned and searched. [This time,] we were instructed to download and install a security application, which, if found deleted at the next checkpoint, we were forced to download and install again.”

This is what a young man from Golog, eastern Tibet, now living in exile, is quoted as saying in a new report by Turquoise Roof, a network of researchers, analysts, and scholars of Tibet brought together by Kate Saunders and Greg Walton.

Titled Weaponising Big Data: Decoding Chinese digital surveillance in Tibet, the study examines in detail how Beijing uses certain tools to control and suppress Tibetan identity.

The aforementioned app is by the National Anti-Fraud Centre, ostensibly to fight "fraud", but its forced installation on Tibetans’ smartphones evinces Beijing’s complex and extensive surveillance apparatus.

Working with Tibet Watch, Turquoise Roof performed a dynamic analysis of the app in question in both its Android and Windows Desktop versions, finding as expected that the programme vets all the data present on the device in addition to anything related to fraud, and can integrate a range of databases operated by China’s Criminal Investigation Bureau.

At the same time, from the analysis of government procurement notices, Turquoise Roof discovered another big data platform known as the Tibet Underworld Criminal Integrated Intelligence Application, using a centralised system powered by an Oracle database (produced by a multinational IT company based in Austin, Texas), which monitors every form of cultural, religious or social expression in Tibet.

Even peaceful advocacy for language rights, or social groups working for the homeless or animal welfare in Tibet are criminalised by the Chinese authorities.

The investigation sheds light on the extent of the Chinese Communist Party's intrusion into the personal sphere, a fact that Tibetans are now widely aware. For this reason, they are forced to take this into account in the way they relate to each other, in some cases - says Turquoise Roof - even breaking off contacts.

People have been detained for exchanging simple messages on WeChat – the popular messaging app owned by the Chinese state – which until a decade ago was also widely used by Tibetans inside and outside Tibet.

Today, they have learnt to self-censor and avoid certain keywords in both written and spoken language, using coded terms in their online communications.

In the background, the "physical" equivalent of this digital campaign goes on with arrests, political prisoners, torture, the increasing predominance of the Chinese language in Tibetan schools, surveillance in monasteries, and the rapid decline of the Tibetan nomad community through grazing bans, fenced pastures, and displacement from their lands, as documented by Tibet Watch.


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