SCIENCE FICTION WRITERS have wondered for years what an all-encompassing surveillance state might look like. China decided to build it.
Over the last year, The New York Times has revealed the lengths to which Beijing has gone to identify and control Uighurs, a Muslim minority that has lived for centuries on the country's western frontier. While Chinese state secrecy means we don't know the full extent of the regime's malevolent policies, what has been uncovered should chill every civil libertarian to the bone.
Within Kashgar, a majority Uighur city, residents must line up to be scrutinized before they can move from place to place. They are legally required to travel with ID cards and to swipe them at each checkpoint. They are also required to expose their faces to cameras that feed their pictures to facial recognition software. At the behest of the national government and regional police forces, Chinese software makers are training their algorithms to distinguish Uighurs from Han, China's ruling ethnic majority. Police officers stationed throughout Kashgar need neither probable cause nor a warrant to detain Uighurs and check their phones for the surveillance software that they're legally required to install.
And if a Uighur resident raises a red flag during one of these encounters? He or she will likely be sent to a "reeducation" camp where, Human Rights Watch reported last year, Chinese Muslims are "held indefinitely without charge or trial, and can be subject to abuse." The camps may contain...