Foreplay and slap. In the face of demonstrations of an unprecedented scale across the country against the “zero Covid” policy at the end of November and the beginning of December, it seems that the regime is dictating its choices. On the tails side, foreplay: The country has announced a relaxation of health checks, which are supposed to go into effect on Wednesday, December 7. On the face side, the slap: the systematic and automated tracking of protesters, made possible by ultra-sophisticated technological means. Artificial intelligence, facial recognition, phone blocking, automated internet censorship… technical structure “It is put at the service of controlling the population,” explains Emmanuelle Lenkot, a geneticist and professor at the Institut Catholique de Paris, to Opus, qualifying the country as “ cyber “.
Define by staring
How is repression done? As a reminder, demonstrating in China is effectively prohibited and punishable by imprisonment. However, a few people were arrested on the spot, no doubt to spare the protesters’ wrath. But they were all identified thanks to surveillance cameras equipped with powerful facial recognition software that is spreading across the country. New software makes it possible to recognize people by capturing iris and gaze. Data is tabulated in real time to display name, gender, and age. Details Emmanuelle Lenkot, who remembers that China has three cameras for one.
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Mr. Zhang, who lives in Beijing, took great precautions to get to the rally, he told The New York Times: “Balaclava, diving mask, changing clothes on the way… He thought he was escaping surveillance.” He received a call the next day from the police, who identified him from his phone’s location data.
Protesters ‘invited to drink tea’
Like him, many protesters across the country, and sometimes even their relatives, have testified to receiving intimidating calls from the police. Some saw officers show up on their doorstep the next day. “Others were invited to ‘drink tea’ at the police station, which means they will be interrogated,” he added. says Jean-Philippe Biga, sinologist, political scientist and translator.
Intimidation can take various forms, such as a strong warning, but also hinder career development, for example. Then there’s the automatic penalty: losing points on social credit, this system that punishes bad students in the system. It is very harmful because the deterioration of social credit has very tangible consequences for everyday life. Preventing you from buying a train ticket, for example. It could even go as far as banning the purchase of medicines.”Detailed by Emmanuel Lincott, author of China and the Islamic Lands: A Thousand Years in Geopolitics. (PUF).
A political generation was born in China
In Shanghai or Beijing, the day after the demonstrations, the police conducted phone checks on the street and on transport. The officers were looking at foreign apps (such as Signal or Telegram, encrypted messaging), VPNs (software that bypasses Chinese internet censorship) and call relay messages for clarification. As a result, a lot of people deleted everything.narrates Jean-Philippe Biga.
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QR Code, a powerful control tool
Another concern: seeing health controls placed at the service of the dictatorship. For two years, the sanitary argument has been used systematically to prevent gatherings in mosques, churches or Buddhist temples. But China can go further, as its “zero Covid” policy has given it powerful tools, first and foremost a QR code. It is impossible to move around without the green QR code, which is synonymous with a negative test. In July, savers who had been hit by their banks, on their way to demonstrate at their offices in the provincial capital Zhengzhou, had their QR codes turning red at the station, despite not being tested. , as Jean-Philippe Pigat recalls.
“It would be amazing if China didn’t use the QR code for political lockdown purposes, it’s too easy! When you have a red QR code, you can’t protest.”
Obviously, the other weapon of the Chinese government is censorship. The party has not forgotten that during the violent riots in 2009 in the west of the country, it all started with broadcasting images of Uyghur executions in Canton Province, more than 5,000 kilometers away. Leaving protest photos exposes himself to what “The spark ignites the meadow”, to use Maoist vocabulary. Hence the tremendous means to avoid infection were applied.
Automatic censorship of social media
On Weibo and WeChat, two of China’s main social networks, no videos of protests in the past few weeks could be found. It is automatically censored by AI tools. About 8,000 keywords, such as the names of towns where rallies were taking place, were banned immediately. On Weibo, you can’t say you like Xi Jinping, for example, because the algorithm will catch the keyword Xi Jinping and delete your post. Hinge Jean Philip Bagage.
In China, the suicidal arrogance of Xi Jinping
But, as on the street waving white sheets of paper, netizens manage to circumvent censorship thanks to tricks. Thus, on Weibo, Xi Jinping became “Xiāng Jiāo Pí”, which means “banana skin”, because the initials are close to those of the leader (XJP). To share sensitive videos, netizens add filters, flip the image, or add childish music over it to cover their tracks.
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“Of course, the authorities eventually find and delete the keywords, but the protesters are buying time. It’s a game of cat and mouse.”
Likes will be organized soon
Because after this first filter, people play a role. In China, the media and platforms are required to implement censorship themselves, which has developed a thriving emerging market. “Before, students often paid for the assignment. But in recent years, the sector has become more professional.”Emmanuelle Lincott explains.
Their favorite target, people who encourage gatherings. Supporting demonstrations on the Internet, without participating in them, already exposes itself to a penalty. And the system wants to go further: from December 15, “likes” will be regulated.
Porn attack on Twitter
The counter-regime digital attack has also reached Western platforms such as Twitter, which is blocked in China but can be accessed through a VPN. In recent days, hashtags mentioning the protests have drowned out thousands of parasitic, advertising and pornographic posts.
“Recently, the obstruction strategy has become completely automated by bots. The system is doing its best to prevent the spread of images of demonstrations,” Emmanuel Lincott analyzes. So far, successfully.