Chinese police hunt down foreign critics with advanced technology

For Chinese security forces, the effort is a daring extension of an assignment that previously focused on Chinese platforms and the most prominent foreign dissidents. Now, violations can have quick effects as simply as posting a critical article on Twitter – or, in the case of 23-year-old Ms. Chen, quoting “I stand by Hong Kong”.

According to an online database that summarizes them, since 2019 there has been an increase in measures in China against people who have spoken out on Twitter and Facebook. The database, compiled by an anonymous activist, records cases based on publicly available judgments, police communications and news reports, although information is limited in China.

“The web has definitely broadened overseas in the last year or so,” said Yaxue Cao, editor of ChinaChange.org, a civil society and human rights website. The goal is to promote the already widespread self-censorship of the Chinese on global social media, she said, likening the cleaning up of critics to an overactive lawnmower.

“They cut off the things that look skinny and tall – the most outspoken,” she said. “Then they look around, the higher pieces of grass no longer cover the lower ones. They say: ‘Oh, they are also problematic, let’s mow them down again.’ “

Chinese security agencies are bringing new technical expertise and funding to the process, as indicated by publicly available procurement documents, police manuals and the government contractor working on internet investigations overseas.

When the police in western Gansu Province visited companies in 2020 to help monitor international social media, they set up a rating system. One of the criteria was a company’s ability to analyze Twitter accounts, including tweets and follower lists. According to a procurement document in May, Shanghai police offered a tech company $ 1,500 for each investigation into an overseas account.

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