Cyber Geopolitics

China: Tapping into Private Data to Oppress Minority Segment

An Urgent Geopolitical and Humanitarian Initiative to Thwart China’s Predictive Policing of Minorities

by N. MacDonnell Ulsch, Principal MacDonnell Ulsch Cyber Advisory LLC

The People’s Republic of China vows to lead the world in Artificial Intelligence (AI).  This initiative by the United States’ leading economic and military adversary has many alarming implications. While AI enhances the ability to address many of the wide-ranging challenges society faces now and in the future, it also has a dark side. One aspect of that dark side is the rampant theft of U.S. technology perpetrated by China and the China-bloc of supporting nation-states, at an estimated loss of $500 billion annually. A narrower application of AI is the human cost, exemplified in the weaponization of AI to persecute the Uyghur religious minority residing in China.

The 11.3 million Turkic Uyghurs in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China are increasingly subjected to technology-enabled continuous surveillance and tracking by the China Ministry of Public Security, the de facto police organization with jurisdiction and authority to monitor the Uyghur population. The China Ministry of State Security (MSS), its intelligence and secret police organization, is involved. MSS Bureau 9 is the Internal Security and Anti-Reconnaissance Division. MSS Bureau 14 is the Science and Technology Division, which inspects mail and telecommunications.

The 11.3 million Turkic Uyghurs in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China are increasingly subjected to technology-enabled continuous surveillance and tracking by the China Ministry of Public Security….[…]

China’s harassment of the Uyghur minority is enabled by companies such as China Electronics Technology Corporation or CETC, a State Owned Enterprise (SOE), and defense manufacturer located in Kashgar, in Xijiang.

Tapping into Private Data to Oppress Minority Segment

CETC enables the targeting of cities, applying the tactics of military cyber intervention to civilian public security. The government taps into the networks of neighborhood informants, monitors individuals, analyzes their behavior, and utilizes AI to anticipate potential criminal behavior and violence. China then acts on what the predictive algorithms think the target population will do, leading to further domestic abuses in an already repressive regime.

The Uyghur community is, in effect, a test population for the accuracy and efficacy of the predictive elements of China’s AI policing technology.

According to the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), in a statement published November 25, 2019, as many as two million Uyghurs have been detained in what the CFR describes as reeducation camps. Some Uyghurs report prison-like conditions and torture. The Uyghur community is, in effect, a test population for the accuracy and efficacy of the predictive elements of China’s AI policing technology.

AI and sophisticated machine learning models are necessary for China to increase the accuracy of its predictive analytics. However, China lacks in critical areas of AI building blocks, and traditionally overcomes this research and development deficit through equity investment abroad, the acquisition of foreign companies that operate as wholly owned subsidiaries of State Owned Enterprises (SOEs), and illegally, through cyber espionage and IP theft.

China’s reliance on cyber espionage and IP theft tactics represent an opportunity for the United States to curb China’s race to dominate AI.

The U.S. Needs a Humanitarian AI Containment Strategy

China’s Program 863 is its blueprint of 20 critical technologies, including AI, required to fuel its economic expansion and implement domestic containment and control. Strengthening its AI capabilities results in expanded surveillance and predictive policing. China targets these specific technologies for IP theft. In order to curb advances in surveillance and predictive policing, it is imperative that the U.S. and Allies enhance the protection of these proprietary technologies. That protection requires multi-national government and private sector cooperation. 

[…..] the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Norway, Sweden, France, India, and Russia. […..] These principal countries would form the Humanitarian Artificial Intelligence Containment Strategy.

We have developed a methodology known as the Intellectual Property Threat Index™ or IPTX™ to analyze the cyber threat to entities developing advanced IP targeted by China and its cyber proxy states. These China-aligned nation-states include: Russia, North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Syria and a number of Sub-Saharan Africa countries. Utilizing IPTX™, we identified the leading AI development countries: the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Norway, Sweden, France, India, and Russia. Given that Russia is part of the China-bloc, Russia would be excluded from the containment strategy partnership. These principal countries would form the Humanitarian Artificial Intelligence Containment Strategy.

A United States led AI containment agreement would further restrict the illicit transfer of Artificial Intelligence intellectual property to China and the China-bloc..

Many companies across the countries listed above are in various stages of AI research and development. Their cooperation in the containment agreement would be critical. The companies leading AI development in the U.S. include IBM, Google, Microsoft, and a number of cutting-edge smaller companies.  There are more than 30 top AI companies in the U.S., including Tempos, Alphasence, Clarifai, Freenome, H2OAI, and Vidado.

IPTX™ is comprised of thousands of cyber threat and risk attributes based on various nation-state and corporate factors.  In utilizing IPTX™ as the cornerstone of a public policy architecture, participating entities would strengthen internal and external barriers to prevent the theft of critical technologies that would further advance China’s AI mission. IPTX™ would reduce the likelihood of these powerful technologies being compromised and applied by China in its predictive policing tactics against the Uyghurs. Such a multilateral program would protect the national security and economic security of participating nations, while serving a humanitarian objective.

A United States led AI containment agreement would further restrict the illicit transfer of Artificial Intelligence intellectual property to China and the China-bloc. Using IPTX™ as the framework for structuring a containment defense would effectively intervene in China’s expansionist strategy and defuse its AI-reinforced repressive agenda.


N. MacDonnell Ulsch is Principal at MacDonnell Ulsch Cyber Advisory LLC. He is Guest Lecturer on Cyber Warfare at the United States Military Academy at West Point and Research Fellow in Cyber Security at Boston College in the Woods College of Advancing Studies, and media commentator. He served as a global cyber threat advisor to the CIA. Mr. Ulsch is the author of Cyber Threat! How to Manage the Growing Risk of Cyber Attacks, published by John Wiley & Sons Inc. and Threat! Managing Risk in a Hostile World, published by The IIA Research Foundation. He can be reached at Don@UlschCyberAdvisory.com or 646.957.1251.

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