f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law states the “freedom and privacy of correspondence of citizens are protected by law,” but authorities often did not respect the privacy of citizens. Although the law requires warrants before officers can search premises, officials frequently ignored this requirement. The Public Security Bureau and prosecutors are authorized to issue search warrants on their own authority without judicial review. There continued to be reports of cases of forced entry by police officers.
Authorities monitored telephone calls, text messages, faxes, email, instant messaging, and other digital communications intended to remain private. Authorities also opened and censored domestic and international mail. Security services routinely monitored and entered residences and offices to gain access to computers, telephones, and fax machines. Foreign journalists leaving the country found some of their personal belongings searched. In some cases, when material deemed politically sensitive was uncovered, the journalists had to sign a statement stating they would “voluntarily” leave these documents behind in China.
According to media reports, the Ministry of Public Security used tens of millions of surveillance cameras throughout the country to monitor the general public. Human rights groups stated authorities increasingly relied on the cameras and other forms of surveillance to monitor and intimidate political dissidents, religious leaders and adherents, Tibetans, and Uighurs. These included facial recognition and “gait recognition” video surveillance, allowing police not only to monitor a situation but also to quickly identify individuals in crowds. The monitoring and disruption of telephone and internet communications were particularly widespread in Xinjiang and Tibetan areas. The government installed surveillance cameras in monasteries in the TAR and Tibetan areas outside the TAR (see Special Annex, Tibet). The law allows security agencies to cut communication networks during “major security incidents.”
According to Human Rights Watch, the Ministry of State Security partnered with information technology firms to create a “mass automated voice recognition and monitoring system,” similar to ones already in use in Xinjiang and Anhui Province, to help with solving criminal cases. According to one company involved, the system was programmed to understand Mandarin Chinese and certain minority languages, including Tibetan and Uighur. In many cases other biometric data such as fingerprints and DNA profiles were being stored as well. This database included information obtained not just from criminals and criminal suspects but also from entire populations of migrant workers and all Uighurs applying for passports.
Forced relocation because of urban development continued in some locations. Protests over relocation terms or compensation were common, and authorities prosecuted some protest leaders. In rural areas infrastructure and commercial development projects resulted in the forced relocation of thousands of persons.
Property-related disputes between citizens and government authorities sometimes turned violent. These disputes frequently stemmed from local officials’ collusion with property developers to pay little or no compensation to displaced residents, combined with a lack of effective government oversight or media scrutiny of local officials’ involvement in property transactions, as well as a lack of legal remedies or other dispute resolution mechanisms for displaced residents. The problem persisted despite central government claims it had imposed stronger controls over illegal land seizures and taken steps to standardize compensation.
The government continued implementing a “social credit system,” which collects vast amounts of data to create scores for individuals and companies in an effort to address deficiencies in “social trust,” strengthen access to financial credit instruments, and reduce public corruption. Unlike Western financial credit-rating systems, the social credit system also collected information on academic records, traffic violations, social media presence, quality of friendships, adherence to birth control regulations, employment performance, consumption habits, and other topics. This system is intended to promote self-censorship, as netizens would be liable for their statements, relationships, and even information others shared within closed social media groups.
An individual’s “social credit score,” among other things, quantifies a person’s loyalty to the government by monitoring citizens’ online activity and relationships. There were indications the system awarded and deducted points based on the “loyalty” of sites visited, as well as the “loyalty” of other netizens with whom a person interacted. The system also created incentives for citizens to police each other. Organizers of chat groups on messaging apps were responsible for policing and reporting any posts with impermissible content, making them liable for violations.
Although the government’s goal is to create a unified government social credit system, there were several disparate social credit systems under several Chinese technology companies, and the specific implementation of the system varied by province and city. In Hangzhou the scoring system, which applies to residents 18 years or older, included information on individuals’ education, employment, compliance with laws and regulations (such as tax payments), payment of medical bills, loan repayment, honoring contracts, participating in volunteer activities, and voluntary blood donations.
There were several cases in which an individual’s credit score resulted in concrete limitations on that person’s activities. Users with low social credit scores faced an increasing series of consequences, including losing the ability to communicate on domestic social media platforms, travel, and buy property. In April state media reported the social credit system “blocked” individuals from taking 11 million flights and four million train trips.
In a separate use of social media for censorship, human rights activists reported authorities questioned them about their participation in human rights-related chat groups, including WeChat and WhatsApp. Authorities monitored the groups to identify activists, which led to users’ increased self-censorship on WeChat, as well as several separate arrests of chat group administrators.
The government instituted the “double-linked household” system in Xinjiang developed through many years of use in Tibet. This system divides towns and neighborhoods into units of 10 households each, with the households in each unit instructed to watch over each other and report on “security issues” and poverty problems to the government, thus turning average citizens into informers. In Xinjiang the government also required Uighur families to accept government “home stays,” in which officials or volunteers forcibly lived in Uighurs’ homes and monitored families for signs of “extremism.” Those who exhibited behaviors the government considered to be signs of “extremism,” such as praying, possessing religious texts, or abstaining from alcohol or tobacco, could be detained in re-education camps.
The government restricted the rights of men and women to have children (see section 6, Women).