BEIJING — Dozens of Chinese firms have built software that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to sort data collected on residents, amid high demand from authorities seeking to upgrade their surveillance tools, a Reuters review of government documents shows.
According to more than 50 publicly available documents examined by Reuters, dozens of entities in China have over the past four years bought such software, known as “one person, one file.” The technology improves on existing software, which simply collects data but leaves it to people to organize.
“The system has the ability to learn independently and can optimize the accuracy of file creation as the amount of data increases. [Faces that are] partially blocked, masked, or wearing glasses, and low-resolution portraits can also be archived relatively accurately,” according to a tender published in July by the public security department of Henan, China’s third-largest province by population.
Henan’s department of public security did not respond to requests for comment about the system and its uses.
The new software improves on Beijing’s current approach to surveillance. Although China’s existing systems can collect data on individuals, law enforcement and other users have been left to organize it.
Another limitation of current surveillance software is its inability to connect an individual’s personal details to a real-time location except at security checkpoints such as those in airports, according to Jeffrey Ding, a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation.
One person, one file “is a way of sorting information that makes it easier to track individuals,” said Mareike Ohlberg, a Berlin-based senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund.
China’s Department of Public Security, which oversees regional police authorities, did not respond to a request for comment about one person, one file and its surveillance uses. Besides the police…
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