(Minghui.org) While our cell phones have become seemingly indispensable tools for communication, business, and information, they also present security vulnerabilities whereby others can listen to our conversations, track our movements, and gather sensitive personal information. Repressive regimes like the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) are known to monitor private citizens through their cell phones. Despite knowing the importance of cell phone security, some Falun Dafa practitioners have still failed to pay enough attention to the problem. Here I would like to share several examples of cell phones being monitored by the Chinese communist regime, and urge practitioners to be more aware and more cautious.
A practitioner told me a story that one of her friends experienced earlier this year. This friend lives in Shenyang City, Liaoning Province, where the coronavirus situation was relatively severe.
One day, this friend passed by a hospital designated for coronavirus patients. That evening, she got a call from the local branch of the China Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, asking her what she’d done after she passed by that hospital.
When this practitioner shared this story with me, I was shocked. I did not know that cell phone monitoring was so prevalent – cell phone monitoring tracks us everywhere we go.
Some practitioners simply ignore these security concerns. When visiting others, some elderly practitioners bring their phones with them, explaining that their phones are “feature phones” (simple phones with few capabilities beyond calling or texting, also known as “dumb phones” for seniors), not smartphones. However, there are many instances in which senior-friendly cell phones are also monitored.
One elderly practitioner used to be my coworker and we shared the same office. Later on, she retired and I was laid off. Occasionally, we would run into each other on the street and chat about things, most of which were related to cultivation practice, including some sensitive information about specific truth-clarification projects.
As we were chatting as usual, I suddenly remembered the cell phone security issue and asked if she had her cell phone with her. She said no and we continued our conversation. Then we heard her phone announcing a phone number loudly from her pocket, “136...” She was embarrassed and said she only used that to contact people in her family. I was upset and also found it strange.
Several days later, she came to see me again. I touched her pocket and the phone was still there. “Maybe you can leave this at home when we meet next time. Okay?” I suggested. I never saw her again after that.
Some practitioners bring their phones with them when visiting other practitioners. Upon arriving, they might leave the phone in the hallway or place it in a different room. Some practitioners carry their phones with them and do not remove the battery until they get to another practitioner's home. They think that this is good enough. Actually it is not, because officials can still find a targeted person’s location this way. Even when the phone is in a different room, conversations in the next room can still be obtained through phone tapping.
Some practitioners have been contacted and harassed by officials through their phone, yet they do not replace the hacked phone or change the SIM card. Some even still take their phones with them when visiting other practitioners or going to Dafa truth-clarification materials production sites. Even if they do not go in, and just say a few words at the entrance, it is still very risky.
A female practitioner was arrested and later released due to the pandemic. The police ordered her to keep her phone on at all times so they could get ahold of her whenever they wanted. Once, when visiting another practitioner, she carried the phone with her. This can be very dangerous. Later on, the practitioner she visited was arrested and sentenced to prison.
When going out to talk to people face to face about Falun Dafa and the persecution, some practitioners also take their phones with them. They feel that it’s more convenient that way to call their family members and ask what groceries or errands might be needed. They then run the errands after they're done with their truth-clarification efforts.
This can be dangerous too. It is best to not take a cell phone with you at all.
I live in a county seat. It takes less than 30 minutes to travel from one side of the city to the other. But some local practitioners still get in touch with each other through cell phones instead of in-person visits.
One practitioner is a taxi driver. Because of the pandemic, he was forced to install apps such as WeChat and Health Code on his phone. After that, he was harassed by the police over the phone. However, a female practitioner at a materials production site still called him on his phone, asking him to transport supplies for making informational materials.
One time, I went to the material production site to install a virtual operating system. Halfway through the process, I heard this female practitioner calling someone at another production site, “Once the ink is used up, please switch to the laser printer...” It is not difficult to link such a conversation to a materials site.
Some practitioners have WeChat on their phones, saying that they only use it to contact family members. Some say their adult children work in other cities and need to get in touch with the app. I once invited my sister, who does not practice Falun Dafa, to my place. As we were eating together, her husband called her asking her where she was. He said that according to WeChat records, she should have returned home after having walked over 4,000 steps from their daughter's home (she babysat her grandchild during the day), as normally it'd take only 2,000 steps to walk back home. So WeChat keeps track of almost everything we do and poses a huge security risk.
Some practitioners have adult children living outside of China and they get in touch with them through WeChat. This is not safe, either. As mentioned in the example above, we may think it is just a family conversation, but the Chinese Communist Party officials may consider it “collusion with foreign forces” and use it as an excuse to persecute practitioners.
Once during a party, a friend of mine (not a practitioner) told me that she works in a foreign firm. One day when answering a phone call at work through a landline, she heard a noise as if the lines were crossed. She knew then that the phone at work had been monitored.
Besides cell phones, tablets can also be targets for monitoring. Once, another practitioner and I went to visit a third practitioner. Neither of us had cell phones with us, and the host placed her phone in another room. So we thought it would be very safe.
There was a tablet in the room, which the host often used for chatting with her daughter who works in another city. I was not familiar with tablets and did not pay any attention to it.
After talking for a while, we began to send forth righteous thoughts. Then we heard a beep on the tablet. When we checked it later, we saw that a message had popped up on the tablet: “The system has detected voices of two other people in the room.” I was shocked – we had been discussing sensitive topics and the audio files could have been sent elsewhere for analysis.
I did not pay attention to cell phone security in the past. I remember when we had group Fa study and group discussion several years ago, and some cell phones were placed on the side of the room to charge. I didn’t think that there was anything wrong with that. When I visited a practitioner in the provincial capital in 2016, I stayed at another practitioner’s place. She told me that they were not allowed to carry cell phones with them for group study and group discussion. I could not understand it at the time and thought the no-cell-phone policy was overkill. But later I realized it was needed.
A neighbor of mine was arrested in 2017 for practicing Falun Dafa. We had contacted each other by phone earlier that day. But I still did not replace my cell phone or SIM card, thinking it would be all right. Two months later, the police called me and harassed me, leaving me with no choice but to switch cell phones and my SIM card. But I still carried my phone when visiting other practitioners, although I did place my phone in a different room during our discussions.
In 2019, I learned that two local practitioners had been arrested in the provincial capital city. Besides them, over 30 practitioners were also arrested that day. They might have been monitored for a long time prior to the arrest. I am not sure about the other practitioners, but neither of the two local practitioners who were arrested paid attention to cell phone security nor had they uninstalled WeChat. Only then did I start to pay serious attention to cell phone security.
Right now, I normally do not call other practitioners by phone and we discuss things face to face instead. And it’s not just cell phones – I do not bring any other electronic devices with me either.
Smart speakers that connect to the internet can be used by a third party as listening devices.
My friend also alerted me about similar systems. She said that the Beidou Navigation Satellite System (a GPS counterpart in China) can locate an object to a precision of half a meter.
A lot of practitioners think that cell phones are needed in order to get in touch with people or to find needed information. In fact, it does not have to be that way.
One practitioner I know wanted to apply for Social Security subsidies, but she did not know how. She asked her neighbor, who did not know how to go about it either. One day when she took a bus, the woman sitting next to her started chatting with her. “I am going to apply for Social Security subsidies for my sister. I heard the process is like this...” The practitioner immediately realized that Master Li (the founder of Falun Dafa) had arranged for the other passenger to provide the information to her.
As long as our hearts are on the Fa, we will be just fine without cell phones. We can still see the people we want to see and find out about the things we need to know.
Editor's note: Views expressed in this article represent the author's own opinions, for which the author is solely responsible. Readers should evaluate the article's merits on their own.