Covid-19 protests: Chinese police use mobile networks to track protesters


Chinese authorities are using cell phone data to track protesters demonstrating against the government’s strict Covid restrictions in Beijing, according to a recording of a phone call between a protester and police heard by CNN.

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered on Beijing’s banks of the Liangma River on Sunday night, calling for an end to the incessant Kovid tests and curfews. Some also condemned censorship and called for more political freedom.

The extraordinary demonstration of opposition in the heart of the Chinese capital ended largely peacefully in the early hours of Monday. But since then, some protesters have received phone calls from the police asking about their involvement.

A protester told CNN they received a call from a police officer on Wednesday and were being followed as cell phone signals were recorded near the protest area.

CNN does not name any of the protesters in this story to avoid reprisals.

The protester was asked if he had made it to the Liangma River on Sunday night, according to the recording of the phone call that CNN listened to. Denying they were there, the caller asked: “Then why did your mobile number show up there?”

In China, all mobile phone users are required by law to register their real names and national identification numbers with telecom providers.

The protester was also told to go to a police station for questioning and sign a written report. According to the recording, when the caller asked why they had to comply, he said it was “an order from the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau.”

CNN reached out to the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau for comment.

Some demonstrators took precautions against being tracked or identified. One protester told CNN that he kept his phone in airplane mode during the demonstration and was not contacted by the police Thursday afternoon.

While there have been protests over local grievances in China, the current wave of demonstrations is unprecedented since the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement in 1989. Life launched a sweeping crackdown on the opposition and established a high-tech surveillance state.

China’s security apparatus acted quickly this week to quell the mass protests that swept the country by maintaining a massive police presence where crowds gather or plan to gather over the weekend.

In Shanghai, where some of the most daring protests took place two nights in a row with crowds calling for Xi’s removal, police searched residents’ cell phones in the streets and subways for virtual private networks (VPNs) that could be used to bypass China’s internet firewall. or apps like Twitter and Telegram used by protesters despite being banned in the country.

Police also confiscated the mobile phones of the arrested protesters, according to two protesters who spoke to CNN.

One protester arrested over the weekend said they were told to give their phone and password to the police as “evidence”.

They said they feared the police would export data from their phones after they were confiscated by officers who said they could get it a week later.

Another protester said that after his release, police returned his phone, but officers deleted his photo album and removed the WeChat social media app.

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