Decoding China’s digital surveillance in Tibet

New report reveals chilling effect of China’s weaponisation of big data in Tibet.

A new report, released today by Free Tibet’s sister organisation Tibet Watch and the research organisation Turquoise Roof uncovers new and alarming evidence of the Chinese government’s deepening digital intrusion into Tibetan lives through the mandatory installation of an app on smartphones at police checkpoints

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Weaponising Big Data

Weaponising Big Data: Decoding China’s Digital Surveillance in Tibet sheds new light on the reach of Party mechanisms into the personal sphere. This is not only changing the way people communicate, but creating a society-wide chilling effect on the way they think, feel, and relate to each other, in many cases leading to a complete breakdown of contact.

The integration of a panoply of advanced technologies in Tibet  – AI-driven systems fusing facial recognition with internet browsing and app-based monitoring, DNA and genomic surveillance, and GIS tracking data – underlines the emergence of a terrifying approach to governance in the 21st century. It uses machine learning to power systems that prioritise state control and suppression over individual liberties and self-determination.

The Turquoise Roof team conducted a dynamic analysis of the Android version of the app installed by Chinese police, in order to assess the likelihood that data collected could feed into broader control mechanisms, including integration with databases managed by the Criminal Investigation Bureau, reflecting wider strategies of surveillance and oversight in the region.

The report also investigates a big data policing platform known as the ‘Tibet Underworld Criminal Integrated Intelligence Application Platform’. Analysis of government procurement notices revealed that this system amalgamates data from various existing Public Security Bureau systems in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) into a central Oracle database. This database system, developed on top of U.S. technology, is instrumental in a campaign that criminalises even moderate cultural and religious expression, Tibetan language study groups, and community welfare work in Tibet.


The National Anti-fraud centre app directs users to upload handheld government ID cards during face recognition onboarding to the app.

There are clear parallels in the deployment of spyware and Universal Forensic Extraction Devices (UFEDs) at police checkpoints in both Tibet and Xinjiang. Similarly, sophisticated big data analytics platforms are in operation in both regions, and although specific systems might differ, the same overarching strategy of control and suppression through intelligence-led policing is evident in both regions.

Civilian AI-driven surveillance systems deployed in Tibet and Xinjiang originate in military Command and Control (C4ISR) systems-of-systems, and integrated PLA joint operations doctrine. Chinese software developers have acknowledged this evolution in which cities and towns where people live are treated like a battlefield.

The report is based on interviews with newly-arrived Tibetan refugees in India and other Tibetan sources, big data generated from official government sources, mobile digital forensics in the context of contemporary Tibet, and in-depth analysis of surveillance System Description Documents.

The report is released a day after the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy published a groundbreaking report on transnational repression including, for the first time, 84 testimonies of Tibetan exiles.

Only a week ago, China faced international scrutiny over its human rights record during the fourth Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group session of the United Nations Human Rights Council from 22 January to 2 February. 21 countries have raised serious concerns about rights in Tibet, with the UK and US governments criticising China’s intrusive surveillance methods.

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We are Free Tibet, and we stand with Tibetans around the world. For their homeland, for their future and against China’s brutal occupation.