Hong Kong Protests Have Become a Technological Battleground

A Hong Kong protester surrounded by teargas.

Hong Kong is starkly divided into two camps, with the government on one side, set on limiting the rights of Hongkongers, and protesters determined to preserve their freedoms on the other. (Image: Screenshot via YouTube)

Hong Kong is at present starkly divided into two camps — the local government that plans on limiting the rights of Hongkongers, and protesters who want to ensure that their independence is not hampered by the Chinese Communist Party’s interference during Hong Kong protests. What makes the ongoing protests unique is that both protesters and the government are utilizing the latest technologies to identify and monitor one another.

Identifying police officers

As the protests started to grow violent, police officers began taking off their identification numbers in order to keep their identities secret. This made a concerned protester open a Telegram channel called “Dadfindboy” that published the personal information of police officers involved in violent attacks. The details also included the officers’ social media posts and family photos. The channel grew popular and gained more than 50,000 subscribers. Though the channel gave out tips like how to use a slingshot and conducted polls on the best way to handle the police with choices such as “machine gun execution” and “gas chambers,” it apparently never advocated violence against the officers.

Subscribe to our Newsletter!

Receive selected content straight into your inbox.

Another protester, Colin Cheung, developed a facial recognition tool that uses an algorithm to match photos of police officers with photos of the protest posted on the Internet. If an officer’s face was displayed on the posted photo, the algorithm would quickly discover their identities. Cheung was recently arrested and subsequently released on bail. “I don’t want them to be like secret police… If law enforcement officers don’t wear anything to show their identity, they’ll become corrupt. They’ll be able to do whatever they want… With the tool, ordinary citizens can tell who the police are,” he said to The Sydney Morning Herald.

In China, police officers do not need to identify themselves and are free from any public accountability. The fact that Hong Kong police officers are taking off their identification prior to cracking down on protesters is a clear sign that the communist model of the police state may slowly be creeping into the city.

Hong Kong police during the Hong Kong protests.
Hong Kong police have begun taking off their identification numbers in order to keep their identities secret, but protesters have developed facial recognition tools to help identify them. (Image: Screenshot via YouTube)

According to a police spokesperson, over 800 incidents have been reported where the officers’ families have been harassed after their personal details were revealed.

Tracking citizens in the Hong Kong protests

In China, millions of CCTV cameras constantly watch people’s movements. Though Hong Kong’s privacy protocols prohibit the aggressive use of facial recognition software, many suspect that the police force is actually using such technologies to identify and track protesters identified as a threat. As such, the demonstrators are using masks, umbrellas, helmets, and goggles to cover their faces.

Some have started shining lasers into the police line to prevent the state cameras from capturing the faces of protesters. Demonstrators are also vandalizing street cameras. A few protesters have stopped using their credit cards out of fear that they might be tracked and taken down by the police. Even traveling by the public transit system is now dangerous, as the camera network captures the faces of all travelers.

Even traveling by the public transit system is now dangerous for protesters, as the camera network captures the faces of all travelers.
Even traveling by the public transit system is now dangerous for protesters, as the camera network captures the faces of all travelers. (Image: RickySpanish via Wikimedia Commons)

Earlier this year, China rolled out a surveillance system that had “gait recognition technology” that allows the authorities to easily track a person using criteria like body movements and iris scans. Even if a person is wearing loose clothing, gloves, caps, scarves, or holding an umbrella, the system will still be able to identify them. Some protesters are worried that the technology might already be in use by the Hong Kong police.

Follow us on TwitterFacebook, or Pinterest

Recommended Stories

Illustration of Chinese scholar Qian Mu, wearing traditional clothing and glasses.

Qian Mu: Guardian of Chinese Tradition in the Shadow of Communism (Part 1)

In 1949, as the Communist Party was poised to take control of mainland China, with ...

Old photo of Chinese historian, Qian Mu, dressed in scholarly robes.

Qian Mu: Guardian of Chinese Tradition in the Shadow of Communism (Part 2)

In 1966, when Chairman Mao Zedong initiated the Cultural Revolution, China’s traditional culture faced an ...

Illustration of a man resting on a sofa.

Unlocking the Benefits of Power Naps for Productivity and Well-Being

The relentless pace of modern life often leaves us feeling drained. In the midst of ...

Colored clouds in the sky.

How a Hug Can Make Miracles Happen

Do miracles exist? Our world is governed by logic and science; extraordinary events often spark ...

A young Chinese man napping on a train.

What Is the Ubiquitous Chinese Nap Culture?

The ubiquitous Chinese nap culture is something that most foreigners usually do not follow. The ...

A laughing baby crawling on the floor.

The Science of Joy: Exploring Human Psychology Through a Babies’ Laughter

There’s something irresistibly captivating about babies’ laughter. A beacon of pure joy and an indicator ...

A laughing Japanese school girl with her friends, all in their school uniforms eating ice cream cones.

Laughter Helps You Live Longer

Research reveals that laughter can help you live longer! The Chinese saying “Smiles make one ...

John Cleese of 'Fawlty Towers.'

‘Fawlty Towers’ Reboot: John Cleese and Daughter to Revive the Iconic Sitcom 40 Years Later

Most people fondly remember classic British sitcoms such as The Office, Blackadder, Last of the ...

William Getty walking with the aid of parallel bars.

A Small Act of Kindness Helped a Boy with Cerebral Palsy Learn to Walk Again

Living with cerebral palsy is an unimaginable hardship that some people have to go through. ...

Send this to a friend