How founded are the concerns about the app's security?
Say what you want about TikTok, but there's no question that the app is a massive success.
TikTok has surpassed 2 billion downloads and set a record for app installs in a single quarter, making it one of the most popular apps of all time. But as concerns about the security of the Chinese owned social media network mount, TikTok's future in the United States is looking more and more uncertain.
On Friday, President Trump told reporters that he would ban TikTok from operating in the United States through emergency economic powers or an executive order. This comes after concerns about the apps use of data, particularly the concern that the Chinese government has access to the data the app gathers from American users.
TikTok fans immediately expressed their concern, with one user, Ehi Omigie, saying, "Everyone is live right now," in a livestream on the app Friday night after news of Trumps statement spread. "Everyone is going cray cray ... If it does happen, follow me on Instagram."
Does Trump have the power to legally ban TikTok?
While it remains unclear what exactly banning the app would look like from a legal perspective, Trump could possibly add TikTok to a list of foreign entities that "present a greater risk of diversion to weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs, terrorism, or other activities contrary to U.S. national security and/or foreign policy interests," thereby forcing Apple and Google to stop supporting the app.
This has been a successful strategy in the past. Last year, Trump added the Chinese telecom equipment manufacturer Huawei to the "entity list," successfully forcing Google to cut ties with the company. But according to Variety, "'Putting TikTok on that list would be unusual and legally dubious,' James Lewis, director of technology policy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), recently told The Verge. There's no evidence TikTok has engaged in criminal activity threatening U.S. national security, although TikTok was fined for alleged violations of the U.S.'s child data-privacy law (which the FTC is reinvestigating)."
Additionally, given Trump's history of unsubstantiated claims, many Americans doubted whether his threat was worth taking seriously. That was until Sunday, when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed Trump's statement on Fox News, saying, "Here's what I hope that the American people will come to recognize -- these Chinese software companies doing business the United States, whether it's TikTok or WeChat, there are countless more ... are feeding data directly to the Chinese Communist Party, their national security apparatus—could be their facial recognition pattern, it could be information about their residence, their phone numbers, their friends, who they're connected to."
He continued, "President Trump has said enough and we're going to fix it and so he will take action in the coming days with respect to a broad array of national security risks that are presented by software connected to the Chinese Communist Party."
Pompeo concluded, "I promise you the President, when he makes his decision, will make sure that everything we have done drives us as close to zero risk for the American people. That's the mission set that he laid out for all of us when we began to evaluate this now several months back. We're closing in on a solution and I think you'll see the President's announcement shortly," he said.
Trump sets deadline for TikTok sale or shutdown www.youtube.com
Can Trump make money off a TikTok deal?
Trump has said that unless an American company buys the US sector of TikTok, the app will be banned from September 15th onward. He has also stated that he believes the US treasury should get a cut of any deal that is made. He said, "The United States should get a very large percentage of that price, because we're making it possible," he said. "It would come from the sale, which nobody else would be thinking about but me, but that's the way I think, and I think it's very fair."
A governing body taking a portion of the profit from this kind of transaction would be unheard of. Charlotte Jee, a reporter at MIT Technology Review, said Trump's comments were "pretty astonishing." She said: "I hate to say this but it is kind of almost Mafia-like behaviour - threatening a ban which pushes down the price then saying, 'Oh we should get a cut of that deal afterwards to say thank you for what we've done there.'"
She continues, "It is extraordinary behaviour as well because last week we had lawmakers in the US trying to look at whether tech companies are too big and now we've got Trump trying to make one of them even bigger so it is a really, really bizarre situation to be in."
Trump hates TikTok teens
It's worth noting that this threat from the President comes just weeks after users of the app claimed responsibility for the poor turn out at Trump's Tulsa rally. As Eden Gordon noted in her article "K-Pop Stans and TikTok Teens Trolled a Trump Rally—What Could They Do Next?," "A coterie of K-pop stans and teenagers on the app TikTok say they came together and inspired thousands of people to reserve tickets to the rally—with no intentions of showing up. It seems to have worked. 'My 16 year old daughter and her friends in Park City Utah have hundreds of tickets. You have been rolled by America's teens,' tweeted Republican campaign strategist Steve Schmidt on Wednesday. Over the weeks before the rally, thousands of kids registered to attend the Tulsa event; it practically became an Internet meme."
Are the Chinese really stealing data through TikTok?
While it's possible that Trump's desire to ban TikTok is partly due to TikTok user's activism at his expense, there are well-founded concerns about the safety of the app.
TikTok is owned by a large Beijing based social media company called ByteDance. Since its inception, TikTok has released several app updates that included urgent security vulnerabilities, but experts agree that's not uncommon for social media apps. The majority of concerns about TikTok's security revolve around fears that the Chinese government is receiving the data of American users. As Forbes notes, "In recent weeks, we have seen reports emerge suggesting that TikTok is 'Chinese spyware,' alleging that the app steals data from users' devices and sends it to China. This is certainly not proven and almost certainly not true on any level, at least not in the way it is presented."
Like any social networking app, TikTok does collect and monetize data from its users. But that's no different than Facebook or Twitter. "It's not any worse or any better than what Facebook, Google and thousands of apps are doing already," Cyjax CISO Ian Thornton-Trump tells Forbes. "Any free service is going to want to monetize the data it's accumulating."
Of course, the big difference comes from the fact that TikTok is a Chinese company that is gathering information on American citizens, and it's the first social media app owned by a foreign power to truly compete with American owned networks. While the data gathering itself may not be inherently insidious, experts believe that the way China uses it could be.
Thornton-Trump goes on to say, "TikTok and other apps present a danger of mass manipulation and social control and disinformation. The danger may be minimal to the individual but serious for society and democracy." Still, one has to question how this is any different than Facebook, which faced major backlash over accusations of influencing the 2016 election via data gathering of this nature. There's no question that a heavy dose of nationalism is no small part of the American backlash against TikTok.
Of course, TikTok is desperate to dispel any concerns. In a statement shared with USA TODAY Saturday, TikTok said, "US user data is stored in the US, with strict controls on employee access." They added that the company's "biggest investors come from the US."
Can TikTok be saved?
According to the New York Times, "The powerful Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or Cfius, has been examining ByteDance's 2017 purchase of Musical.ly, an app that eventually morphed to become TikTok. The committee has decided to order ByteDance to divest TikTok, and the government is engaged in negotiations over the terms of the separation, according to a person familiar with the administration's plans, who spoke on the condition of anonymity."
Apparently, Microsoft and other companies are in negotiations to purchase TikTok. after a call between Microsoft's chief executive Satya Nadella and Mr Trump, Microsoft confirmed on Sunday in a blog post that it would continue discussions about possibly buying TikTok. It remains unknown whether the app will really be deactivated in the US come September 15th if a deal isn't made.
His latest insanity involved claiming that the coronavirus is both "the common cold," and a bio-weapon designed by China.
There are few people in American media as reliably unhinged and distasteful as Rush Limbaugh.
But to many in his audience of more than 15 million weekly listeners, Limbaugh is a bastion of straight talk. Since the late 1980s, his brand of antisocial advocacy has twisted and infected the nation's political conversations.
What makes Limbaugh so compelling is that he never pulls punches or offers any deference to basic human decency. He will fight for the rights of smokers to choke a restaurant with clouds of thick smoke, will happily claim that Planned Parenthood is committing genocide against black Americans, and will never shrink from accusing Michael J. Fox of "exaggerating the effects" of Parkinson's disease with no evidence beyond the fact that Limbaugh himself can do a morbid pantomime of wild muscle spasms. To regular listeners, these unequivocal stances reflect Rush's willingness to stand up to the leftist authoritarians and the woke scolds of the world. He speaks truth to power… Unless of course Republicans control the levers of power, in which case Rush will speak in power's defense.
That was the case on Monday, when Rush managed to argue—in the span of a few minutes—that COVID-19 (colloquially known as the coronavirus) is both "the common cold," and "a Chicom laboratory experiment that is in the process of being weaponized." Chicom is a reference to China's ruling Communist party, whom Rush is accusing of deliberately manufacturing this new strain of virus as a form of biological warfare. But due to their incompetence or some nefarious ulterior motive that involves getting everyone only mildly ill, their biological weapon is—according to Rush—"the common cold."
As evidence of its mildness, Rush cites the low mortality rate—"98% of people who get the coronavirus survive." Of course, this would seem to undermine the sinister plot that Rush has espied through his omniscience, if not for his clever discovery of Chicom's co-conspirators: the mainstream media. "The drive-by media hype of this thing as a pandemic, as the Andromeda strain, as, 'Oh, my God, if you get it, you're dead.'"
There's no doubt that the media has a history of exaggerating the potential danger of emerging epidemics—ask anyone who had the Swine flu and shrugged it off. It makes for a gripping story to tell viewers that a new disease that's spreading is coming to kill them and their loved ones, but the famously pro-communist "drive-by" media is legitimately too distractible to really focus on overblowing a health crisis while also covering election drama, Megxit, Trump's pardons, and Harvey Weinstein. So if they are giving the coronavirus too much hype, it can only be part of an elaborate conspiracy with Xi Jinping and the Chinese government…but to what end?
As always, in times of uncertainty, we turn to Rush Limbaugh for the answer: "The way it is being weaponized is by virtue of the media, and I think that it is an effort to bring down Trump, and one of the ways it's being used to do this is to scare the investors, to scare people in business. It's to scare people into not buying Treasury bills at auctions. It's to scare people into leaving, cashing out of the stock market—and sure enough, as the show began today, the stock market—the Dow Jones Industrial Average—was down about 900 points, supposedly because of the latest news about the spread of the coronavirus."
Fascinating. Meanwhile the fact that nearly 3,000 deaths have occurred—with more than 80,000 confirmed cases and outbreaks spreading in Italy, Iran, South Korea, and Japan—must all be part of the hype. The fact that the virus is wildly contagious and not well understood is part of the hype. The facts that the entire city of Wuhan—with a population of over 11 million—is under strict quarantine and that containment measures throughout China are disrupting office work, manufacturing, and transportation is all part of a clever, convoluted plan to hurt the presidency of Donald Trump. The fact that tourism and travel have dropped off around the world, and that various companies have reported losses as a result of the virus and the measures taken to combat it, it's all just calculated to undermine President Trump's singular metric of success—the surging "economy" embodied in the stock market.
Because there can't possibly be anything wrong with structuring economic policy entirely around a foundation of volatile investor speculation and a faith in limitless corporate growth. No, the strategy would be perfect if it weren't for the forces of evil aligning against Donald Trump to control global events in a way that hurts his political chances. In that sense, it's only reasonable for President Trump to dangle military aid in front of foreign leaders in exchange for dirt and propaganda against his political rivals. It's the only way he can fight back!
This latest drama comes on the heels of Limbaugh's receipt of the Presidential Medal of Freedom during President Trump's State of the Union Address—an honor which Limbaugh pretended to be surprised by. Some people have criticized the decision to give such a prestigious award to the kind of man who would glibly invent conspiracies about Chinese bio-weapons and downplay the severity of a little-understood contagion. On the other hand, if anyone should know about the dangers of viral respiratory infections—and the deadly pneumonia that can result in people with compromised systems—it's surely Rush Limbaugh. He is, after all, currently being treated for stage four lung cancer and is unlikely to recover.
That last point is worth restating: Rush Limbaugh most likely will not be with us for much longer. It's an important thought to keep in mind when things seem bleak.
And what can be done about it?
A recent document leaked by the Chinese government has proven something that many of China's detained Uighur population and the global human rights community have known for a long time: China's central government is detaining groups of people on the basis of their religion and culture.
The new data leak contains comprehensive information on over 2,000 detainees being kept in China's detention camps, which have locked away almost a million members of ethnic minority groups, mostly Muslims, since 2014. Once again, the database proves that China's authoritarian government has been locking away people not only for religious extremism, but for activities as simple as going to a mosque.
The Chinese Communist Party has vehemently denied accusations that it's imprisoning people as a method of religious persecution, but by now it's clear that's what they're doing. What's less clear is what might be done about it—and what will happen to the nation's prisoners now that the coronavirus poses a serious threat.
Who Are the Uighurs?
The term "Uighur" has a complex history, and its definition is largely contingent on who is defining it. In general, the term refers to a group of Muslims who are indigenous to Central and East Asian nations, according to BBC. They are usually thought of as having descended from the 8th and 9th century Turkish Khaganate empire, but many migrated from present-day Mongolia to present-day Xinjiang, where they joined with an ancient indigenous population and eventually converted to Islam en masse.
According to loose consensus, the term resurfaced in the 20th century when the group—with help from the Soviet Union—declared independence from colonial China in the first half of the 20th century. They were brought under Chinese control in 1949, when the Communist party took hold and ended the Uighur's experiments with independence. Today, like Tibet, Xinjiang is considered an autonomous nation but remains under China's authoritarian control.
According to many activists and spokespeople, Beijing authorities have persecuted the Uighur population for decades, restricting their cultural and religious activities. On the other hand, according to China's central government and its diplomats, the Uighurs are waging a violent campaign for an independent state, and by detaining them, China is acting out of necessity.
What's Happening to the Uighurs?
Today, the worldwide consensus is that the Uighurs are the subject of tremendous persecution in China, a persecution that was fastidiously hidden by the Chinese government for decades.
In November of 2019, The New York Times leaked 400 pages of documents that exposed China's efforts to detain Muslims en masse in the Xinjiang region. "Even as the government presented its efforts in Xinjiang to the public as benevolent and unexceptional, it discussed and organized a ruthless and extraordinary campaign in these internal communications," wrote Austin Ramsey and Chris Buckley for The Times. "Senior party leaders are recorded ordering drastic and urgent action against extremist violence, including the mass detentions, and discussing the consequences with cool detachment. Children saw their parents taken away, students wondered who would pay their tuition and crops could not be planted or harvested for lack of manpower, the reports noted. Yet officials were directed to tell people who complained to be grateful."
In essence, Uighur peoples were taken in massive numbers from their homes and detained in concentration camps, and the story was kept out of the global press for years. Rumors of the existence of China's Uighur prisons began to emerge in global media when Google Earth satellite software captured pictures of massive prisons in the deserts of Xinjiang in 2018. Interviewers and investigators who pressed the matter were told by Chinese diplomats that the camps were "re-education centers," and as news of the camps grew, the Chinese government began to release propaganda about its education initiatives.
Eventually, it became clear that Uighur detainees are subject to highly illegal abuses. They are forced to praise China's ruling party, to learn Mandarin, and to renounce their sins—which might include going to a mosque. People living in the camps have said they were forced to exercise and beaten when they could not follow the proper laws and regulations set by authority officials. "There was a special room to punish those who didn't run fast enough," said 29-year-old Ablet Turson Toti, who was detained in a camp in Hotan, in the south of Xinjiang. "There were two men there, one to beat with a belt, the other just to kick."
Uighur communities have been destroyed by Beijing's imprisonment and conversion initiative. "Every household, every family had three or four people taken away," said Omer Kanat, executive committee chairman of the World Uyghur Congress. "In some villages, you can't see men on the streets anymore—only women and children—all the men have been sent to the camps."
The non-detained also face persecution, forced to surrender passports to CCP government officials and prohibited from practicing Islam and wearing headscarves and subjected to "anti-extremism laws." Subsequently, many Uighurs have fled the country, living as refugees in Turkey and other nations, forced to lose contact with family members.
Why Is This Happening?
Ostensibly, the ethnic cleansing of the Uighurs is an effort on China's part to unify China, and to transform and deradicalize Muslims.
"Penetration of everyday life is almost really total now...You have ethnic identity, Uighur identity in particular, being singled out as this kind of pathology," said Michael Clarke, an Australian National University professor and expert on Xinjiang.
On another level, it's all about political power. In part, a rise in Islam may have led to the CCP's fears that the Xinjiang peoples could unify and rebel against the Communist government, as they had done in the first half of the 20th century."Why are Uyghur persecuted?" writes Massimo Introvigne for the World Uyghur Congress. "Although fears of 'separatism' may play a role, basically the answer is that they are persecuted because the strong revival of Islam among them scared the regime. The CCP was, and is, afraid that the Muslim revival may expand to other non-Uyghur Muslim groups in China, and join forces with a revival of religion in general that may one day overcome the CCP's rule. The logical conclusion is that, although no persecution is ever purely religious, the Uyghurs are indeed victims of a religious persecution."
On an even deeper and more complex level, what's happened to the Uighur peoples is inextricably connected to capital and lines of profit, which cross oceans and connect major powers like the United States and China—and leave indigenous populations like the Uighurs in the dust. "The mineral wealth—in particular oil and gas—of a region almost five times the size of Germany has brought huge levels of Chinese investment, rapid economic growth and large waves of Han Chinese settlers," writes John Sudworth for BBC.
Despite the U.S.'s recent determination to denounce the Uighur government, no major power is inculpable. "In today's world, authoritarian politics and predatory commerce cooperate to exploit 'cultural differences.' Nowhere is this point clearer than in the symbiosis in recent decades between Western corporations and the Communist elite in China," argues Ai Weiwei in an op-ed for the Times.
That symbiosis reached a head during the post-9/11 era. In recent years, the United States has joined with the United Nations to denounce abuses of the Uighurs, but actually, the United States was instrumental in revving up early anti-Uighur and anti-Muslim sentiments. After 9/11, many members of the Uighur population were painted as potential allies of Al Qaeda, though little corroborative evidence has surfaced regarding these claims. Some 20 members were detained without charge and possibly tortured in Guantanamo Bay. "For years, the United States has been at the forefront of promoting an abusive counterterrorism architecture at the United Nations and has been allied with China on many of these efforts," says Letta Tayler, a Human Rights Watch expert on counterterrorism.
For their part, Muslim nations have also failed to protect the Uighurs. "Many risk looking like hypocrites over their own records of human rights abuses if they confront China—or risk imperiling lucrative partnerships," writes Joseph Zeballos-Roig for The New Republic. He identifies "deepening economic relationships, coziness with authoritarianism and the allure of a "Confucian-Islamic" alliance against the West" as "[outweighing] the political willingness of Muslim governments to act."
What Can Be Done About All This?
What can people around the world do about the ethnic cleansing occurring in China? While it's tempting to fall back on an argument that the United States and major global powers should embroil themselves in China's affairs, this impulse has been a historically unproductive and dangerous habit rooted in a white savior mentality which usually leads to further turmoil. Instead, the United States should use its economic power to pressure China and Middle Eastern allies into changing their ways on the basis of human rights violations.
Already, lawmakers in Washington are pushing the Trump Administration to place sanctions on China, many of which enjoy bipartisan support. This is on the right track, for "the most effective resistance to the treatment of Uighurs is increasing the public-relations costs for Beijing," write Daniel Bessner and Isaac Stone Fish for The Nation. "The State Department should publicize this issue in other Muslim countries, particularly influential American allies like Saudi Arabia, and among China's neighbors, especially Pakistan and Kazakhstan, with the hopes of increasing international pressure to end the ethnic cleansing."
Activist groups, they continue, should "pressure groups like the ABA to publicly criticize China while simultaneously compelling universities to embrace their commitment to free inquiry," and specifically, "the left should encourage civil-society groups to use their connections to politicians to push for programs to resettle Uighurs—and dissent-minded Chinese—who desire to move to the United States. And," they conclude, "it goes without saying that this must be done with the active participation—and indeed, leadership—of Uighurs themselves, who understand the needs and interests of their community better than any outsider."
In 2020, due to the onset of the coronavirus, presses around the world are calling for the Beijing authorities to release prisoners. "These camps, where as many as 3 million people are detained, are at risk of becoming death chambers," writes Abdul Majakbid for USA Today. "The World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a public health emergency this month, yet China's government, the WHO and the United Nations are apparently so far silent about the potential danger to the detained Uighurs." In fact, there are rumors that China is sending Uighur citizens to Wuhan, the epicenter of the virus. In light of the Uighur population's vulnerability to the virus, there are calls for the United States to levy sanctions against Chinese authorities unless they comply with global calls to inspect Uighur prisons and protect the detained from the virus.
It's important to remember that in spite of China's undeniable human rights violations, the United States is embroiled in its own human rights abuses, specifically on the U.S. border—so it may be hypocritical to fixate on China without first healing some of the crisis in this nation. Plus, much of the critiques that exist about China and coronavirus have xenophobic aspects of their own.
Still, all of these abuses are interconnected, rooted in xenophobia and racism that stems from neoliberal capitalism and a global reliance on oil.
At least 10 vocal activists have been "kidnapped" after stirring unrest about labor reform in the Communist Party.
Authorities in China have intensified their suppression of human rights, with their latest government crackdown targeting student activists at Peking University.
Last Friday, an alumnus of China's prestigious—and idiosyncratically liberal—University was reportedly "kidnapped" on campus property for drawing attention to labor reform. Zhang Shengye was forced into a car by a small group of unidentified men wearing black jackets. An anonymous witness noted, "They hit him hard and quickly got Zhang under control."
University officials had to spin the widely publicized arrest in a series of memos sent to students, claiming to have discovered an "illegal organization" within the university's own Marxist Society. The messages alleged that individuals had infiltrated the campus in order to subvert the government and sow dissent against the Communist Party. One memo warned that students would "bear consequences" if they became associated with the organization or the activism it encouraged.
Student protesters commemorate Tiananmen Square anniversary Daily Mail
Several vocal activists, including other graduates from Peking University, have disappeared recently. According to CNN, at least nine other labor protesters are known to have been detained in five other cities. Despite touting Marxist ideologies, the Communist Party has long outlawed labor unions and opposed workers' rights. The government has been amplifying efforts to suppress activism since the summer, when the government denied a group of workers' demand to establish a trade union in southern China's Shenzhen's Jasic Technology company, stirring public dissent over labor laws.
"It's ironic to see how the students who have been studying and believing in Marxism are rounded up by the Chinese authorities for supporting workers, the fundamental value of Marxism," said Patrick Poon, a researcher at Amnesty International in Hong Kong. "The students are simply exercising their freedom of expression and showing their solidarity to the workers. They should be immediately released."
While students at Peking University are urged to study the tenets of Marxism and the power of the proletariat, China's Communist Party now has to suppress the empowered students who have not only noticed but resisted the government's hypocritical denigration of the working class. Cornell professor Eli Friedman notes, "Now that they've taken it to heart, the government is cracking down quite significantly. In some ways, this is the government's own making.
In response, Peking University's committee within the ruling Communist Party announced the implementation of an office focused on "internal control and management" of campus life, including inspections and patrol of campus grounds. Another new addition to campus is Qiu Suiping, the new Communist Party chief stationed at the university after serving as the top state security official in Beijing from 2013 to 2014.Qiu's appointment and the rise of student activism both speak to the growing unrest in China for fairer and more humanitarian living conditions for workers. The average work schedule for a young professional in China is commonly referred to as "996": work from 9 AM to 9 PM, six days a week. For factory laborers, schedules can extend to grueling 16- or even 18-hour-day
China has forced at least 1,000,000 Uighur Muslims to undergo "re-education" training.
Remote buildings fenced in by barbed wire, governmental slogans urging citizens to declare their loyalty, and armed guards preventing entry and exit: history has highlighted these as familiar omens of totalitarian oppression. Now the international community is condemning the Chinese government's "re-education camps," in which approximately one million Uighur Muslims have been detained, as the latest government machination violating human rights.
Under claims of combating religious radicalism," Chinese authorities have revised a law to condone the use of detention centers "to carry out the educational transformation of those affected by extremism." However, witness testimony and government documents have exposed a litany of human rights violations taking place in the camps under the guise of "vocational training" for the Uighur and other Muslim minority populations.
Chinese security in XinjiangThe New York Times
Within the camps, "re-education" programs not only restrict Muslims from practicing their religion, but impose a militant regimen of psychological indoctrination, including studying communist propaganda, reciting hymns to praise the Chinese Communist Party, writing "self-criticism" essays, and ritually giving thanks to Chinese President Xi Jinping. In what The New York Times calls "the country's most sweeping internment program since the Mao era," detainees are disciplined by thousands of guards armed with police batons, electric cattle prods, and pepper spray.
Camps are located in Xinjiang, an autonomous, arid region in the northwest. It's the largest region of China and noted as the residence of about 10 million Uighur Muslims among China's 1.4 billion population. Gay McDougall of the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination condemned the Chinese authorities' treatment of Muslims "as enemies of the state solely on the basis of their ethno-religious identity." Despite the Chinese government's initial claims that the camps' "students" were treated to amenities from ping-pong and TV to air conditioning and free dining, McDougall makes clear that Xinjiang has become "something resembling a massive internment camp, shrouded in secrecy, a sort of no-rights zone."
Most concerning are the reports of torture methods like waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and beatings for those who deviate from the program. A former detainee named Omir told the BBC in September, "They have a chair called the 'tiger.' My ankles were shackled, my hands locked to the chair. I couldn't move. They wouldn't let me sleep. They also hung me up for hours, and they beat me. They had thick wooden and rubber batons, whips made from twisted wire, needles to pierce the skin, pliers for pulling out your nails."
Abdusalam Muhemet and his 3 children in their Istanbul home.The New York Times
Abdusalam Muhemet, a 41-year-old former restaurant owner, recited a verse from the Quran at a funeral in 2015 and was subsequently detained in a prison cell for seven months before being relocated to a Xinjiang camp. "That was not a place for getting rid of extremism," he recalled to The New York Times. "That was a place that will breed vengeful feelings and erase Uighur identity." Muhemet was released after two months of detainment; he was never charged with a crime.
Facial recognition technology is getting better, and every industry from fast food to law enforcement is beginning to utilize it.
About six months ago, Chinese conglomerate Alibaba released technology that allows customers to pay for goods via facial recognition. The tech giant, now worth over 500 billion dollars, chose KFC as the testing ground for their new payment method; a logical move, considering Alibaba is invested in Yum! China, the company responsible for every KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut operating within the country. This "Smile to Pay" method is possible because of Face++, a company that focuses on facial and body recognition technology. And the commercial sector isn't the only area that's investing heavily in facial recognition tech in China. There are train stations in Beijing that use facial recognition (based off of government IDs) to print out tickets, and many office buildings (including Alibaba's headquarters) are phasing out key cards in favor of this newer security measure. Still, the most common usage of facial recognition –and possibly the most difficult to come to terms with– is the identification of potential criminals.
As early as last August, Chinese police forces in Hangzhou, a city with a population comparable to New York, began using surveillance cameras fitted with this technology to identify suspects. Recently, Chinese police officers began using electronic sunglasses fitted with facial recognition software. These glasses allow officers to access a database and pull up information on any person that comes into their line of sight. While this technology seems like it belongs in a Ridley Scott movie, it's here now. And it's important for us to recognize its political and social implications.
You don't have to be a luddite to spot the dangerous precedent set by this new technology. When police officers can access your personal data on the fly, it's certainly reasonable to wonder about your civil rights. Still, this technology doesn't seem to be the privacy-erasing apocalypse that haunts the dreams of libertarians everywhere. It's helped police officers in China identify people involved in kidnappings and hit and runs, as well as scammers using fake IDs. With regard to privacy, the pros to using this technology seem to outweigh the cons. Where this tech becomes an issue, is in its inability to deal with nuance. For example, authorities in Shenzhen City are using facial recognition to automatically issue fines (via text) to jaywalkers. This technology will also keep records on repeat offenders, and has the potential to affect their credit scores.
Officers in China review footage using facial recognition software
The issue this technology presents is similar to that of traffic cameras. Before they were banned in New Jersey, these cameras would issue tickets for running red lights and making illegal turns. The issue was, that these cameras were programmed to operate within the strictest possible parameters. They followed the law to a tee. Since the program was completely automated, there was no way for the cameras to look at each case individually. Tickets were shot out at a rapid clip, arriving by mail to anyone who so much as made a right turn a second after the light turned red. From a government funding standpoint, it was a slam dunk, and the towns that put these traffic cams up made a ton of money from issuing the tickets, but the public outcry against the cameras was huge. While China has a much more authoritarian social structure than we do in the States, it's doubtful that the people of Shenzhen City will embrace this new system of doling out fines.
A facial recognition programs scans the face of a passerby
As usual, the fundamental issue with this new tech isn't something deliberately insidious by design, nor is it the way in which it's used by law enforcement. The real problem, as is the problem with all automated technologies, is its inability to replicate human decision making. There's no amount of programming that will allow this technology to distinguish subtle differences between offenders. There's a reason why we shouldn't let algorithms run our police departments; it's impossible to account for the nearly infinite amount of variables that go into human behavior. While there are certainly patterns, if we rely too heavily on these machines, we set the precedent that their programming is superior to our officers' powers of deduction. Machines are fundamentally tools that help us complete jobs-they can't do the jobs for us.