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Alibaba founder tells Chinese government to use data to stop criminals

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Jack Ma wants to stop potential lawbreakers

Riccardo Savi/Getty Images

In a move considered unusual for a Chinese internet entrepreneur, Alibaba founder and business magnate Jack Ma urged Chinese officials to use big data to stop would-be criminals. Ma announced his ideas on Friday in a televised speech to about 1.5 million domestic security and legal officials. The speech was also published on the Chinese Communist Party’s Commission for Political and Legal Affairs' WeChat account on Saturday, according to Bloomberg.

Ma's speech touched on how data can streamline police duties, and called on China's "unrivaled" data capabilities to form a system akin to Spielberg's Minority Report where citizens can be thwarted from carrying out illegal activities. As an example of how data can help authorities catch would-be terrorists, Ma said that buying a high-pressure cooker, a timer, some gun powder, or steel ball bearings all at once could signal that a person may be a bomb-maker, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Data can catch "real-life" bad guys

China's surveillance activities are continuing to evolve with technology. In July 2015, China released a draft cybersecurity law that would give the government an almost-unfettered access to users' data where national security is concerned. Following the release of the draft bill, the Chinese government announced a plan to have police officers stationed in internet companies so they can better enforce their strict censorship policies. At the end of 2015, China passed a controversial anti-terrorism law that required telecommunication and internet service providers to provide the Chinese government with "technical support and assistance" such as decryption, in terrorism-related investigations.

The Wall Street Journal noted that Ma's speech raised the question of what Alibaba would be willing to do in the event that it is required to share users' data by the Chinese government. The company told The Wall Street Journal that while it doesn't share users' data with the government, it does comply with Chinese law, meaning that they may have to surrender information when the law requires.

Ma's words have already prompted concerns to the proposed technology's potential misuse. Jason Ng, a technology researcher with Citizen Lab, told Bloomberg, "Without some level of transparency and oversight and clear boundaries, I worry deeply for citizens’ rights and the ability for this technology to be abused as simply another method to identify and monitor Chinese individuals who dare to not agree with authority figures."