It’s racial profiling at epic proportions. Last weekend, the New York Times stunned everyone by blowing the lid off the Chinese government’s futuristic attack on faith. According to new documents, the regime actually created special facial recognition software to secretly track and crack down on the Uyghur Muslim population. “It is the first known example of a government intentionally using artificial intelligence for racial profiling, experts said.” And hopefully, Ambassador Sam Brownback told me on Tuesday’s “Washington Watch,” the last.
It’s bad enough that the regime of President Xi Jinping has taken his war on faith to another level, throwing millions of Uyghurs into reeducation camps — where torture and trauma are daily routines. Now, with the government spying on its people with sophisticated surveillance systems, there’s no end to the threat. “Police documents show demand for such capabilities is spreading. Almost two dozen police departments in 16 different provinces and regions across China sought such technology beginning in 2018, according to procurement documents,” the Times warns.
“Take the most risky application of this technology, and chances are good someone is going to try it,” said Clare Garvie, an associate at the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown Law. “If you make a technology that can classify people by an ethnicity, someone will use it to repress that ethnicity.” That’s exactly what the Trump administration is worried about.
Asked what he thought was behind this disturbing trend, Brownback told me, “It seems to be their view of control and desire for complete control and fear of any faith community group that might be something that people could rally or organize around, it could challenge them.” And it’s not just the Uyghurs, he explains. “…[T]hey are going after the house church members, they are going at Tibetan Buddhists, they are going at Falun Gong, it really kind of seems to be almost any and all religious groups and it seems to be around their concern for control.”
It sounds like science fiction, but the technology is real. The Chinese government is even collecting DNA samples from the Uyghurs — disguised as “free health checks.” Using that database, Uyghurs who refuse to conform could be chased down and punished. It’s getting to the point, Ambassador Brownback told me, where they’re treating them like actual criminals.
“Here’s the fear point for me… in the future in a place where they want to persecute a minority, and particularly a religious minority, they may not end up putting a lot of people in jail; what they may end up doing is just marginalizing you in society to where you can’t move, you can’t buy and sell, because they won’t let you because everything is run by the computerized systems and the artificial intelligence and you’ve got a bad social credit score and so you are not allowed to rent an apartment, go to school or get a job.”
This is, quite seriously, the future of oppression. “It doesn’t look like lots of people in jail. It looks like people marginalized, and anybody that calls you on your cell phone can be tracked and they can get the same social credit score that you get… This is a very diabolical situation and one that people should be deeply concerned about because it is in a system that can easily be replicated and sold broadly to authoritarian regimes or various places around the world.”
Fortunately, the Trump administration doesn’t intend to side-step the situation. In just the first half of his term, the president has changed how America treats international religious liberty. Not by talk, but action, the entire world has seen what genuine engagement looks like on a global scale. Leaders at the highest levels of government — from President Trump to Vice President Mike Pence and later, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Ambassador Brownback, started making international religious liberty a priority in other conversations about trade and national security.
Now, after two years of skepticism, people on both sides of the aisle see Brownback — and the Trump administration by extension — as advocates for religious freedom for everyone. And in the case of the Uyghurs, not a moment too soon.
If you feel burdened for the persecuted church — especially in China — please take a minute and sign your name to our prayer petition for American pastor David Lin, whose family continues to worry about his safety in prison. Details here. Also, don’t miss my new Fox News column about David with fellow USCIRF Commissioner Kristina Arriaga.