A hacked trove of 1.1 million China police surveillance records include data on more than 150 Australians and a number of Australia-based Uyghur community leaders and activities, a new report has found.
Late last year, activists hacked into an insecure Chinese Alibaba cloud server and discovered the surveillance records from the “Technology Division” of the Shanghai Public Security Bureau.
The records include data on tens of thousands of individuals and is further evidence of the use of technology in China to surveil the Uyghur community as part of the government’s automated mass surveillance systems being developed around the country, according to the ABC.
The ABC investigation found the records contained data on more than 150 Australian citizens, and at least three Australian citizens who are Uyghur community leaders and activities.
These people have been listed as “suspected terrorists” on the list, meaning they could be targeted for monitoring and harassment.
They include Australian citizens who have lived in the country for seven to 20 years.
The hacked database was labelled as “uyghur terrorist”, and two of the Australian-based individuals who are included on it appeared on an ABC Four Corners report in 2019 about human rights abuses in the province of Xinjiang, where the majority of Uyghurs reside.
Each of the three Australian citizens included on the database have had family members or relatives detained in “re-education” camps in Xinjiang, the ABC reported.
The hacked database is understood to be part of China’s wider national watchlists, which form part of the country’s automated mass surveillance systems being rolled out around the country.
The activists who hacked the database sent the files to Canberra-based cybersecurity firm Internet 2.0, which then transferred them to the ABC and Five Eyes security agencies.
Other information in the files include information on police informants and facial and vehicle recognition photos.
It comes from the “Technology Division” of a Shanghai Public Security Bureau, which is responsible for “image, wireless and wired communications systems”.
According to Dr Darren Byler, a researcher on the surveillance of the Uyghur people at the University of Colorado, this division is in control of the data-led surveillance efforts in China.
“The Technology Division is being tasked with deciding who should be placed on watchlists and then prompting other police officers to do investigations into them,” Dr Byler told the ABC.
“It’s really in charge of turning normal material into a data-centric interface that allows the state to assess people and assess their movements through time and space.
“Some of this is through travel records and banking records and things like that.
“In other cases, they’re using forms of facial recognition software that might be in camera systems or at checkpoints as people move through cities.”
Technology is a key element of how the Chinese authorities conduct surveillance of the Uyghur population.
In 2019 it was revealed that Chinese border police were secretly installing a data-stealing app onto the phones of tourists entering the Xinjiang region.
Two Australian universities also came under fire that year for associations with surveillance technology that was being used in Xinjiang, including an app used by Chinese officials to monitor the population.
The app contains information about individuals and flags them for investigation.