China’s chilling reaction to Chinese protests using facial recognition, AI technology

Facial recognition software identifies protesters. Cell phones on the march are being tracked and social media are scouring for clues.

Beijing unleashes its entire dystopian arsenal to contain repeats of last weekend Covid lockdown protest.

China’s giant security machine is in high gear.

The protest site is closed. Police patrol the streets. People are randomly stopped to check their cell phones. Some have received phone calls or knocks on their doors from authorities warning them not to take further action.

On Wednesday, China’s Internal Security Director vowed to “effectively maintain overall social stability.” And an overwhelming sense of coercion seems to be working.

at least last weekend 23 demonstrations in 17 cities.

They appear to have been triggered by an apartment building fire that killed 10 people under the Covid-19 lockdown.

Protesters took to the streets.

They carried candles, flowers, and blank papers in Shanghai, Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou, and elsewhere. They chanted, “We want freedom.” Also, “Xi Jinping,get off”.

It’s where protesters crossed the CCP’s “red line”.

They can complain about details. They can criticize local implementation of policies. But you can’t criticize policies or the party itself.

The Chinese Communist Party’s response appears to have been slow at first. Protests, usually of hundreds to thousands, were left largely unimpeded. And a flurry of social media posts supporting their stance erupted across China’s social media.

It seems strange.

demonstrator He was immediately detained at Beijing’s Sitong Bridge during the 20th National Congress last month and his sign was torn down. And all mention of the protest was quickly removed.

But participants, supporters and innocent bystanders of last weekend’s event have since felt the effects.

all-seeing eye

China’s Central Political and Legal Commission said on Wednesday that “we must crack down on intrusions and sabotage by hostile forces according to law.” It would be a “resolute and ferocious attack against intrusions and sabotage by hostile forces, as well as illegal and criminal acts that disrupt public order.”

door knock. phone. Cell phone confiscated. These are the tools used by China’s security services to quell unrest.

They act on information gleaned from millions of security cameras linked to facial and posture recognition systems. Not to mention the usual “handshake” that occurs at relay towers as mobile phones move within range.

Communist Party censors also scrutinize Chinese and Western social media accounts to track who shares the news.

Simply put, everyone participating in, near, or commenting on street protests is being tracked.

“I was not stopped on the street. I think the police detected that I was using Telegram,” a Shanghai resident told German news agency DW.

“The police called me twice and warned me not to say anything about the pandemic or the protests. My father also received threatening calls from them.”

“One reasonable suspicion is that police may have used surveillance technology to locate protesters’ phones at specific locations and at specific times,” another resident said. I got

A week later, there are few signs of protest.

“Given Beijing’s powerful tools of surveillance and control, it seems unlikely that these events pose a direct threat to the regime,” it wrote. Ian Johnson, China analyst for the Council on Foreign Relations. “But in challenging the government, the protests have raised far-reaching questions about how the next decade of Xi Jinping’s administration will play out.”

evolve or die

There are constant protests in China. It’s just that it often happens in a very indirect or formal way. And local Communist Party leaders are usually quick to do what they can to diffuse the situation.

The problem only arises when Beijing’s central government gets involved.

As soon as the virus spread in Wuhan in 2020, similar pandemic-related protests began and lockdowns began to be strictly enforced. Instead, it attacked local implementations, including failure to provide food and medical care.

That way they didn’t cross the CCP’s “red line”.

But after almost three years, residents’ patience has run out.

“The cycle of easing and tightening, confining people like lab rats, eventually exhausted their last patience,” he wrote. Chinese scholar Deng Yuwen.

“We know that under the government’s Corona Zero Policy, everyone in the system could suffer next, including those in the system, especially officials and workers on the front lines of the pandemic response. But unless Xi Jinping changes, they have no choice but to put up with it.”

Beijing’s reaction seems to be mixed.

On Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian was asked whether China would ease its zero Covid policy because of the protests.

“What you said does not reflect what really happened,” he replied.

On Thursday, China’s Vice Premier Sun Chunlan appeared to change course.

“China’s pandemic containment faces a new phase and mission as the Omicron variant becomes less virulent, vaccination coverage increases, and outbreak control and prevention experience accumulates,” he said. rice field.

Shortly after, 24 “high-risk” Shanghai districts were lifted from lockdown.

In November, 412 million Chinese were affected by some level of Covid-19 lockdown policy. On Wednesday, the country recorded 36,000 cases. This is one of the highest levels since the pandemic began.

Jamie Seidel is a freelance writer. @Jamie Seidel

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China’s chilling reaction to Chinese protests using facial recognition, AI technology

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