The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has deployed high-tech tools to track down protesters and detain them amid rare protests against Beijing over prolonged COVID restrictions.  

According to AFP, Chinese police use surveillance tools such as facial recognition and location data to crack down on participants in the widespread protests across the country. 

Wang Shengsheng, a lawyer in Zhengzhou, told the news outlet, “In Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, police have seemingly used very high-tech methods.” 

She added, “In other cities, it seems like they have relied on surveillance footage and facial recognition.” 

Wang said the police may have collected phone location data from on-site scanners or COVID health code scanners near the protest areas.

The New York Times reported that police had used facial recognition tools, phones, and informants to identify protesters. Once tracked down, they warn the demonstrators not to protest again. 

Due to little experience handling high-tech tracking tools and fear of further repercussions, many citizens have deleted foreign messaging apps such as Telegram or Signal. The protesters had used those apps to coordinate and spread images and footage overseas.

The CCP has the world’s most sophisticated surveillance systems to monitor its citizens. Hundreds of millions of cameras are installed on street corners and at building entrances. In addition, powerful facial recognition software and other programs are used to identify and track down citizens. 

The Washington Post said the police show up at the homes of those who attend the protests at night. They stop people in the street and search their phones for banned apps. Police also summon individuals for questioning at police stations and keep them there for over 24 hours.

Alkan Akad, a China researcher at Amnesty International, told the New York Times, “We’re hearing stories of police turning up on people’s doorsteps asking them about their whereabouts during the protests, and this appears to be based on the evidence gathered through mass surveillance.”

The Washington Post cited one China-focused security expert, reporting that officials may use data from cellphone towers to track people who were around the protests.

Lawyer Wang Shengsheng told AFP, “I feel very sad because we have such effective technology, but it’s being used in the wrong place.”

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