Expert explains how China uses smartphones to spy on Christians in their homes

The communist government is now able to monitor private religious practices within people’s homes – thanks in part to American technology.

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 16, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – The Chinese government is using digital technology – partly made by American companies – to target and repress religious groups more than ever before, a foreign policy expert told the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom on Wednesday.
While religious persecution has always been a part of communist China, new technologies have made “that repression far more effective,” Chris Meserole, who works with the Brookings Institution and teaches at Georgetown University, testified.
During a hearing of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom on Wednesday, Meserole explained that formerly, the government was generally only able to “to repress public forms of religious organizations, practices, identities, and beliefs, particularly in urban areas.” Religion practiced privately at home, on the other hand, was relatively safe.
“Digital technologies have changed that,” argued Meserole. “As processors, sensors, and cameras have proliferated, the extent of religious life that the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] can surveil has expanded dramatically.”
“Video and audio surveillance of public mosques, churches, and temples has exploded,” he pointed out. “Rather than simply shut down a religious school or house of worship, authorities can monitor all activity and individuals within those facilities and sanction undesired behavior or individuals with greater specificity.”
In fact, Meserole said, the government recently shut down a church in Beijing for refusing to install video surveillance equipment in the building.
Digital technologies also help the government to target underground religious organizations and networks, he continued. “From video feeds to GPS tracking, authorities have greater ability to detect religious groups that meet and operate covertly.”
“In Xinjiang, for instance, smartphone location data, vehicle location data, checkpoint logs, facial recognition technology, and video feeds from buses, streets, and drones, can be used to identify when individuals in the same religious network meet together covertly, potentially even in real-time.”
Meserole said that video surveillance can identify religious symbols. That data is then used “for real-time classification by police and security services around China, with authorities being notified when someone who is classified as a Uighur Muslim or Tibetan Buddhist appears on a CCTV feed.”
The foreign policy expert explained that “networked video feeds have made it possible to observe religious practices in a far wider range of contexts,” as opposed to personally sending government officials to church services, which used to be the case.
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