Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Saying the Wrong Word: How China Monitors Calls and Messages

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) continues to tighten its grip over the lives of its citizens as it introduces newer surveillance mechanisms to keep them under control. In an interview with Bitter Winter, an ex-employee of a state-backed telecommunications company revealed the extent to which the Chinese government is monitoring the communications of the public.

Monitoring Chinese citizens

“There is simply no privacy in China. Social media, calls and messages on mobile phones are all under surveillance… If one says anything deemed unfavorable to the CCP, he or she will be punished. Every person is monitored and controlled under the pretext ‘to crack down on harassment,’” the employee said to Bitter Winter. While at the firm, he worked in the “censorship” department.

The company monitors messages and phone calls of all its customers across 31 provincial-level administrative units, except for Macau, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Any words uttered or messaged by the user that are concerned with religion, politics, and other such “sensitive” topics are automatically flagged and company workers are assigned to review them. Religious phrases that are deemed sensitive include “Falun Gong” and “Almighty God.”

If a message was intercepted that discussed the CCP’s organ harvesting from living Falun Gong practitioners, “immediate measures” would be taken to prevent leaks. People who tweet, message, or speak any sensitive words would have them automatically intercepted by the system and their service would instantly be deactivated. If the person wants to reactivate their connection, they have to submit their ID card and sign a statement promising that they will never speak about sensitive topics again.

(Image via pixabay / CC0 1.0)
In order to reactivate their service, a person has to submit their ID card and sign a statement promising to never speak about sensitive topics again. (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

However, the punishment can be quite severe if the authorities determine that the individual committed a serious offense. For instance, one resident of Fujian who was caught on the border had his passport destroyed and was informed that he was banned from traveling abroad since he had criticized the CCP and its leaders through various communication channels. His behavior was deemed a disturbance to the “public order” and an insult to the government.

Facial scanning

China recently implemented a law that requires people establishing new mobile phone services to provide their face scans. The new rule, announced by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology back in September, is apparently intended to “protect” the “legitimate rights and interests” of citizens online.

“People registering a new phone number would have to record themselves turning their head and blinking… Mobile customers are already required to show a form of identification when signing up for new phone contracts, but the face scans will now be used to verify the person is a genuine match to their ID,” according to DW.

(Image: Screenshot / YouTube)
The law makes facial scanning mandatory in order to establish new mobile services. (Image: Screenshot / YouTube)

Chinese social media users criticized the move, saying that these additional rules only end up taking away their privacy. One user commented that thieves used to only know their names but that from now on, they will know what you look like. Another user jokingly asked whether scam callers could be blocked from seeing what he looks like.

Overall, sentiment toward the rule was negative. However, as their opinions have no value in the country, citizens are powerless to demand the government roll back the rule. The Chinese government is aiming to install about 400 million new surveillance cameras in the country by 2020 in addition to the millions that already exist.

Follow us on Twitter or subscribe to our weekly email

Max Lu
Max Lu is an author who specializes in Asian geopolitics.

Subscribe to our newsletter


How to Become More Productive to Achieve Your Goals

The need to be productive is often met with mixed feelings. While many feel that unless they are churning...

More Articles Like This