China’s Surveillance System Targets Anti-Lockdown Protestors

Police use mobile phone data to track citizens who participated in nationwide demonstrations against nation’s draconian lockdown measures.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Chinese police have begun leveraging the powers of the country’s surveillance state to go after demonstrators who participated in rare public displays of defiance over the government’s stringent Covid control policies.

Wang Shengsheng, a lawyer providing legal support to more than 20 protesters from Beijing, Shanghai and other cities, said at least 15 people or their families and friends reached out to her for help after being contacted by local police. She said she suspected that police had used data from mobile phones, including apps used to monitor Covid exposure, to track the movements of people involved in protests. Police were also scanning social-media accounts to investigate protesters, she said.

A university student in Beijing who participated in Sunday’s protest in the city said his school had been contacted by police. The school told him police had used mobile phone data to track his movements to the vicinity of the protests. He said he had been asked to write a declaration explaining why he was present in the area at the time.

Under leader Xi Jinping, China has expanded its ability to track the movements and activities of its citizens. While this didn’t stop the protests from breaking out, China’s security apparatus has begun to lean on it to prevent them from spreading. Besides hundreds of millions of cameras—some equipped with facial recognition software—that line city streets, police also can access detailed mobile phone and social-media data that shows the locations of people at a given time. The government has enhanced these capabilities over the past two years as part of contact-tracing efforts to control the spread of the virus.

The efforts to track down protesters came as Chinese health officials responded to the public anger over the Covid policies and appeared to recalibrate their message on the danger posed by the virus.


The protests followed a deadly fire on Thursday in Urumqi, the capital of the western region of Xinjiang. Some residents suggested that pandemic restrictions contributed to delays in putting out a fire that killed 10 people.