How Police Databases Sort China’s Citizens

Chinese authorities’ efforts to gather data about citizens have attracted growing attention, from DNA collection and AI-enhanced video and audio with face or voice recognition, to the emerging and widely misunderstood Social Credit System. Much of the work of tracking perceived threats to Party rule and social stability, though, is still done with digital but relatively low-tech public security databases; descendants of the analogue dang’an 档案 personal file which, as The New York Times’ Andrew Jacobs wrote in 2015, “documents matters mundane and profane. The dossiers start with a citizen’s middle-school grades, whether they play well with others and, as they become adults, list their religious affiliations, psychological problems and perceived political liabilities.”

The following list was posted anonymously by someone claiming to have worked for many years in China’s public security system, and to have compiled these dozens of tags used to describe individuals in public security databases after coming to see such tools as instruments of oppression. In addition to terrorism and ordinary criminal matters such as violence, gangs, and the drug trade, the tags cover a wide range of other official sensitivities. These include potential sources of political and economic unrest or public anger, from democracy advocates and supporters of independence in Xinjiang, Tibet, and elsewhere, to victims or operators of pyramid schemes, retired veterans, and “left-behind” rural residents. Some labels denote family circumstances such as single, impoverished, or poorly educated parents or variously vulnerable children; others highlight mental health issues and threats of “revenge on society.” Others hint at the depth of information apparently contained in these digital profiles, where knowledge of firearms, explosives, and minority languages sits alongside proficiency in calligraphy, stage performance, and film projection.

Working within the public security system for over a decade, I felt all along that big data and “big intelligence” can help us frontline personnel to more conveniently solve cases—theft, violent crime, gang crime, and so on. In the last few years, however, I’ve realized that big intelligence has become an instrument of persecution of ethnic minorities (in Xinjiang, Tibet, and elsewhere) by the Party. I’ve decided to remain silent no longer, and to speak out about the extent to which big data has already been abused. For the sake of my own safety, I can say no more about my own identity. Don’t worry about me: after all, I’m extremely familiar with their methods of investigation.

Within the public security system, we have a number of ways of categorizing, tagging, and depicting people, generally on the basis of personal information already held on the individual, with people screened accordingly. This personal profile can only be viewed within the comprehensive police system: it’s completely inaccessible to ordinary community officers.

The personal tags are sorted into several major categories: there are those involved in terrorism, those involved in social instability, fugitives, those involved with drugs, those with criminal records, local persons of interest—every province, city, town, autonomous region and municipality has its own different categories, such as “involved in terrorism” in Xinjiang, “involved in smuggling” in Guangxi border towns, “involved in fraud” in places with high incidence of phone scams, and so on according to local authorities’ own decisions. There’s a political category, violent terror category, mass incidents category, extremists, problematic disputes category, and so on.

Among these, those involved in terrorism are sorted into:

  • Person involved in terrorism
  • Person involved in Xinjiang
  • Key person involved in Xinjiang terrorism
  • Person related to domestic terrorist or separatist organization
  • Person released after sentence or re-education for violent terrorism
  • Person related to leads in a case involving terrorism or violence
  • Relatives of those shot dead by authorities or sentenced as terrorists
  • Technical personnel with knowledge of firearm or explosives construction
  • Person attempting to leave the country to join a terrorist organization
  • Organizer of or participant in religious extremist activities
  • Disseminator of religious extremism or terrorist ideology
  • Person showing unusual behavior after returning to China from a country of interest

Those involved in instability:

  • Person involved in instability
  • Person involved with Tibet
  • Falun Gong or other evil cult member
  • Falun Gong member
  • Harmful Qigong practitioner
  • Fake religionist
  • Person involved with Japan
  • Person with military experience
  • Discharged volunteer soldier
  • Veteran of Unit 8023 [troops involved in nuclear weapons testing]
  • Veteran of the Sino-Vietnamese War
  • PLA cadre transferred to civilian business
  • Demobilized officer
  • Personnel demobilized due to disability
  • Other person with military involvement
  • Person involved with various kinds of economic crime and instability
  • Person involved in pyramid selling
  • Person involved in the “Jingcai Shenghuo” pyramid scheme
  • Person involved in the Wanjia Gouwu pyramid scheme
  • Person involved in illegal fundraising
  • Categorized under “Tianjin private equity fund”
  • Person involved in the Guangdong Bangjia Leasing Company illegal fundraising case
  • Person involved in unrest from the Henan Danbao illegal fundraising case
  • Person involved in unrest over Fanya
  • Person involved in unrest over eZubao
  • Person involved unrest over various other economic crimes
  • Abnormal visitor
  • Key internet figure
  • Person of interest to Domestic Security Department with criminal record
  • Person with criminal record for treason or separatism
  • Case of treason or separatism
  • Case of treason against the state
  • Separatism case
  • Case of inciting separatism
  • Case of armed revolt or riot
  • Case of inciting armed revolt
  • Case of subversion of state power
  • Case of inciting subversion of state power
  • Case of criminal activities funding endangerment of state security
  • Person with criminal record for treason or defection
  • Treason or defection case
  • Case of going over to the enemy
  • Defection case
  • Person with criminal record for spying or financially supporting the enemy
  • Case of spying or financially supporting the enemy
  • Spying case
  • Case of financially supporting the enemy
  • Person with criminal record of stealing, spying, buying, or illegally providing classified intelligence to foreign parties
  • Case of stealing, spying, buying, or illegally providing classified intelligence to foreign parties
  • Stealing classified intelligence for foreign parties
  • Spying for classified intelligence for foreign parties
  • Purchasing classified intelligence for foreign parties
  • Illegally providing classified intelligence to foreign parties
  • Previous record of other crimes endangering state security
  • Other cases of endangering state security
  • Uyghur
  • Other types of person involved in unrest
  • Laid-off bank employees
  • Community teacher
  • Film projectionist
  • Other person involved in unrest

I don’t need to go into fugitives, people involved in drugs, or those with criminal records, you all know about them.

In terms of local persons of interest, there’s one category found everywhere across the country: “person expressing extreme opinions.” Have a think about what might constitute an extreme opinion. I won’t go into detail, because discussing who constitutes persons of interest in various regions might reveal where I am located.

Political categories:

  • Democrat/Separatist
  • Xinjiang independence
  • Tibet independence
  • Inner Mongolian independence
  • Shanghai independence
  • Guangdong independence
  • Taiwan independence
  • Other
  • Democracy movement
  • Participant in the 1989 student rebellion
  • Key person in higher education
  • Other
  • NGO
  • Evil cult
  • Falun Gong
  • Harmful qigong practitioner
  • Illegal religious practitioner
  • Other
  • Key person of interest to the Domestic Security Department
  • Person of interest to the Domestic Security Department with criminal record
  • Case of treason and splitting the country
  • Case of betraying the country
  • Case of splitting the country
  • Case of inciting splitting the country
  • Case of armed rebellion or revolt
  • Case of instigating armed rebellion
  • Case of subverting state power
  • Case of inciting subversion of state power
  • Case of criminal activities supporting harm to national security
  • Person with criminal record for treason or defection
  • Case of treason or defection
  • Case of going over to the enemy
  • Defection case
  • Person with criminal record for spying or supporting the enemy
  • Case of spying or supporting the enemy
  • Espionage case
  • Case of supporting the enemy
  • Person with criminal record for stealing, spying, buying, or illegally providing classified intelligence to foreign parties
  • Person with criminal record for stealing, spying, buying, or illegally providing classified intelligence to foreign parties
  • Case of stealing, spying, buying, or illegally providing classified intelligence to foreign parties
  • Case of stealing classified intelligence for foreign parties
  • Case of spying for classified intelligence for foreign parties
  • Case of buying classified intelligence for foreign parties
  • Case of illegally providing classified intelligence to foreign parties
  • Previous record of other crimes endangering national security
  • Other case of endangering national security
  • Key internet figure
  • Key media figure
  • Journalist conducting illegal newsgathering within [China’s] borders
  • Foreign journalist
  • Other

Violent terror categories:

  • Violent terror category
  • Key figure involved in Xinjiang terrorism
  • Person related to domestic terrorist or separatist organization
  • Uyghur criminal
  • Person released after sentence or re-education for violent terrorism
  • Person related to leads in a case involving terrorism or violence
  • Relatives of those shot dead by authorities or sentenced as terrorists
  • Person attempting to leave the country to join a terrorist organization
  • Organizer of or participant in religious extremist activities
  • Disseminator of religious extremism or terrorist ideology
  • Person showing unusual behavior after returning to China from a country of interest
  • Technical personnel with knowledge of firearm or explosives construction
  • Person endangering security in Xinjiang
  • Person suspected of terrorist involvement
  • Uyghur criminal
  • Key person of interest to Domestic Security Department in Xinjiang (person involved in great danger to stability in Xinjiang)
  • Person connected with someone endangering security in Xinjiang
  • Person of interest regarding Tibetan religion
  • The eight classes of monks and priests
  • Returnee involved with Tibet
  • Person involved with Tibet illegally leaving or entering the country
  • Person endangering security in Tibet
  • Person involved with terrorism and related matters

Group incident categories:

  • Graduate placement
  • University, high school, or technical college graduate group
  • Salaried individuals receiving social welfare benefits
  • Relief fund for laid off bank employees
  • Business restructuring
  • Involved with the military
  • Groups involved with the military that have placements and wages
  • Groups of rank-and-file soldiers discharged in the 70s or 80s
  • Groups of veterans without placement cards
  • Groups that bought out of military service
  • Other
  • Community teacher
  • Problems finding work
  • Social security
  • Involved in law or lawsuits
  • Land dispute
  • Pasture land dispute
  • Environmental protection issue
  • Public dispute
  • Villager benefits
  • Doctor-patient dispute
  • Forest ownership dispute
  • Corruption report issue
  • Accident compensation
  • Land requisition, demolition, and relocation of inhabitants
  • Other

Extreme individuals:

  • Acute mental patient
  • Mental patient responsible for disturbance or accident
  • Mental patient responsible for minor disturbance
  • Mental patient with hidden violent tendencies
  • Person threatening revenge on society
  • Person who has exhibited extreme behavior

Others:

  • Person involved with Japan
  • Person involved with various kinds of economic crime and instability
  • Case of illegal acquisition of public savings
  • Multi-level marketing case
  • Multi-level marketer
  • Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx pyramid scheme case
  • Illegal fundraiser
  • Private equity fund category
  • Other people involved with various kinds of economic crime and instability
  • Religious person of interest

Local persons of interest:

  • Deliberately propagating [rumors]
  • Starting or spreading rumors
  • Threats
  • Gathering crowds to petition
  • Irregular rights defense
  • Irregular petitioning

Tags for those with history of mental illness:

  • Multiple personality disorder
  • Split sex disorder
  • Persistent delusion disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Mental disorder caused by epilepsy
  • Mental disorder co-occuring with delayed mental development
  • Severe depressive outbreak
  • Mental disorders caused by psychoactive substances

The “Three Involvements”:

  • Involved with drugs
  • Involved with gangs
  • Involved with firearms

The “Four Histories” [apparently for prisoners]:

  • History of drug abuse
  • History of escape [attempts]
  • History of suicide [attempts]
  • History of assaulting officers

Special abilities (those in bold paid special emphasis):

  • Driving vehicles
  • Piloting boats
  • Flying planes
  • Shooting
  • Explosives
  • Firearms
  • Drawing
  • Calligraphy
  • Photography
  • Videography
  • Performance
  • Engraving
  • Communication technology
  • Computer technology
  • Legal counsel
  • Psychological consultation
  • Medical treatment
  • Martial arts
  • Repairs
  • Foreign languages
  • Minority languages
  • Sign language

Left-behind people [by relatives migrating for work]:

  • Left-behind elderly person
  • Left-behind woman
  • Left-behind child
  • Family economic situation:
  • No fixed income source
  • With fixed income source
  • Low-income family
  • Impoverished

Family circumstances tags:

  • Low-income family
  • Single-parent family
  • “Floating” [mobile] family
  • Parent or guardian’s education level relatively low
  • Not on good terms with parents
  • Frequent bad behavior among family members

Youth tags:

  • Idle youth
  • Youth with bad or seriously bad behavior
  • Vagrant beggar minor
  • Underaged children of convict
  • Rural left-behind child

That’s the end of the individuals’ tags. Now let’s talk about big data. These days you have to show ID to do anything, but do you know where the data goes? As you youngsters say, a picture’s worth a thousand words.

Anyone above the rank of criminal police can view these at will—for example, I always look up which internet cafes my son goes to, or whichever girls he books hotel rooms with. There are access logs, but no one oversees them.

I can’t answer any questions—this is a throwaway account. [Chinese]