Overview of Phone and Internet Surveillance
(Minghui.org) The Chinese communist regime has used many methods to persecute Falun Gong practitioners, including hate propaganda and violence. Most importantly it is quite active in bugging phones, cellular phone tracking, and video surveillance.
For example, after banners with the words “Falun Dafa is good” were found in January 2017 in Harbin City, Heilongjiang Province, police tracked down practitioners by using video surveillance, phone tapping, location tracking, and vehicle monitoring. This led to the arrests of at least five practitioners, four of whom were illegally sentenced to prison several months ago.
It is important to understand some basic information concerning surveillance and counter surveillance.
The modern surveillance technology got its start during the cold war several decades ago. Government agencies collected information through detectaphones, which transmitted information through electronic waves. Several methods were used to make such devices undetectable.
The first one was a small, button-sized device which was easy to conceal, and could easily fit into a screwdriver handle. Second, the device had an extended battery life, so it could be used for a long time. It could also be made to resemble a common wireless cellphone charger. Third, instead of placing a detectaphone in proximity of the target, a highly-sensitive device could be used from far away. This is possible because, as one speaks, the surroundings, including windows, vibrate in certain ways reflecting the sounds within. Once such signals are collected and analyzed, they could be played back as if you were placing your ear against the window to listen. Water and sewer pipes can also send sound waves over long distances and can be used for serveillance.
There are several ways to deal with these methods. Examples include being cautious about receiving gifts from suspect people, being careful in locations that are already known to suspect people. One way to prevent home surveillance is to have heavy window curtains; another is to have background noise such as television audio.
Videotaping in conventional ways is more challenging because a video camera needs to be aimed at the target. Following and taking photos or videos are also options used for surveillance.
Cellphones and Computers
With the development of information technology over the past 20 or 30 years, government agencies and large companies have developed more powerful tools to collect personal information. At the same time, the technology required to achieve this has become increasingly accessible.
Governments, companies, and individuals often refrain from abusing these tools outside of China, because of laws and public opinion. However, these technologies are widely exploited by the communist regime to suppress people in China.
Telephone company records include phone numbers, call times, and length of conversations. Once a target is identified, all the conversations can be converted to text through software, followed by filtering, and analysis by a human.
Contemporary computers, smart phones, and Internet have simplified tracking down individuals. Video recording devices are now seen in many places, and cellular phone conversations can be easily obtained through backdoor software, transmitted remotely, then analyzed.
Since many people keep a cell phone on hand at all times, the GPS function allows surveillance operatives to locate this person. Numerous apps may also collect information from phones and send it to remote servers.
Many websites and cell phone application vendors cooperate with advertising agencies to collect user information. Through powerful information analysis, the advertising agencies may know more about a person than family members or even the person him-or-herself. When combined with contact lists and phone records, the advertising agency can construct a social profile of this individual, and based on this, generate more information. Many apps may seem user friendly, but their convenience may indicate that much information about a person and their circle of friends is collected without notice.
Inside China, these advertising agencies and vendors can profile individuals for the Communist Party. It is thus better to avoid computers or cell phones made in China, and even software developed in China. The surveillance potential can be minimized if phone users install fewer apps, as many apps request permission to access one’s contact list, phone log, wifi information, GPS location, microphone, and camera. These tools can enable the cell phone or computer to be used as a powerful surveillance device.
Therefore, due to the persecution we recommend that Falun Gong practitioners avoid communication software or services provided from China.
Software Outside China
Software provided from elsewhere, including the United States, is somewhat different. The information is often encrypted and stored in the U.S., where it is subject to protection and regulation by relevant laws. Generally, the Chinese government has no access to such information, but there are exceptions. In some incidents during the past years, some American companies have cooperated with Chinese firms, and store information for some users on servers in China. In the name of complying with Chinese laws, these business partners in China may provide related information to the communist regime.
Such cases have been reported by the news media. For example, Skype produced a special version for China, Yahoo China provided information on dissidents to the communist regime, Google used to filter search results when it had operations in China, Apple removed some VPN apps from its App Store, and it stored Chinese users' iCloud information on servers in China. Therefore, law enforcement agencies in China could request information for these individuals. To make things worse, Google has been reportedly developing a search engine tailored for China in a project named Dragonfly.
Large companies usually do not want to lose current customers. Meanwhile, they want to make profits in the Chinese market. As a compromise, they may separate services in China from core businesses overseas, but it cannot guarantee confidentiality, nor can it be guaranteed that highly-sensitive information is not being leaked.
Many VPN tools are available both inside and outside of China. Since the VPN vendors have stored the IP addresses and sites users visit, information collected inside China is vulnerable because it could be turned over to the communist regime upon request.
Fraudulence and Identity Theft
Once a person's information is online, it may be collected by many parties and shared among them. It could make people victims of fraudulent activities and identity theft.
Many types of fraudulent activities and identity theft are common. Relatively speaking, fraudulent phone activities are easier to identify since it involves both a phone number and voice. But inside China, under its totalitarian communist regime, people may be forced to do things against their will when under pressure. Fraudulent activities on the Internet, however, are much more common and one should be even more careful in this arena.