China: Officials commission surveillance system targeting journalists

Recent reports reveal that journalists and other ‘suspicious’ actors will be tracked by an elaborate surveillance system allegedly commissioned by the authorities of Henan Province, China. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is deeply concerned that Chinese authorities will intensify intimidatory tactics towards journalists, using technology to force self-censorship, and calls on the Chinese government to uphold freedom of expression.

A security camera during a State Council press conference in Beijing on March 12, 2021. Credit: NICOLAS ASFOURI / AFP

According to reports from late November, Henan’s provincial government awarded a contract worth US$784,000 to Shenyang-based tech company Neusoft to build a sophisticated surveillance system in September. Using 3,000 facial recognition cameras that connect to different national and regional databases, the system will compile files of specific individuals traveling to Henan.

While the system’s functionality cannot be confirmed, once active it will focus on “people of concern”, targeting the movements of journalists, international students and migrant women throughout the province. Monitoring will be increased on key dates such as the annual session of parliament or China’s national day.

Under the new system, journalists are to be classified using three categories – red, yellow, and green – which will notify or alarm law enforcement officials whenever a journalist enters the provincial border, checks in at a hotel, or buys a ticket, effectively standardising responses to perceived ‘security’ threats across the province.

The contract was put out for tender on July 29 after correspondents from various foreign news organisations reported on the devastating floods in Henan beginning in mid-July 2021. "Suspicious persons must be tailed and controlled, dynamic research analyses and risk assessments made, and the journalists dealt with according to their category," the tender reads. Public access to the tender document was disabled on November 22.

The IFJ said, “Chinese authorities have tightened their grip on the press in recent years, and local and foreign correspondents have experienced ongoing surveillance, obstruction and harassment intended to impede their reporting. The IFJ calls on Chinese authorities to cease these practices immediately and respect freedom of the press in accordance with international standards.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on [email protected]

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

Twitter: @ifjasiapacific, on Facebook: IFJAsiaPacific and Instagram