A former employee of one of China’s largest technology firms — China Mobile Online Services — recently revealed how the communist country’s government is manipulating public opinion by monitoring citizens’ mobile phones.
The telecommunications firm is a subsidiary of China Mobile Limited. The unnamed ex-employee, referred to as “Mr. Li,” told the religious liberty magazine Bitter Winter there is “simply no privacy in China,” where smartphones are the primary devices for accessing the internet.
Li told the outlet he worked as a “censor” along with about 500 other employees before resigning his post at the company. They were responsible for monitoring users’ phone calls and text messages.
Upon discovering “harmful” information, China Mobile workers were reportedly assigned to review the user’s account thoroughly, according to Li.
“If anyone were not careful enough and missed a piece of sensitive information, this would result in the deduction in monthly salary and year-end bonus,” he said. “I usually had to handle more than 10,000 pieces of information every month. It was unavoidable to make mistakes, at least one or two a year.”
Words and phrases deemed “sensitive” to China’s communist regime include “Almighty God” and “Falun Gong,” a phrase referring to meditative exercises.
“Anything deemed unfavorable to the CCP is labeled ‘political,’” explained Li. “For example, immediate measures will be taken to intercept messages that mention the CCP’s organ harvesting from Falun Gong practitioners to prevent leaks.”
The former China Mobile employee told Bitter Winter that if any “sensitive” words were found on phone calls or text messages, the company’s infrastructure “would automatically intercept the information and users’ services would be deactivated instantly,” disabling their ability to send and receive messages or calls. In order to have their mobile phones reactivated, offending users would have to go to a China Mobile service center with their ID cards and sign a statement saying they wouldn’t share “sensitive” information in the future.
This report comes at a time when it’s becoming increasingly difficult for believers in China to purchase Bibles or faith-related books online.
Christians who purchase religious books online are reportedly being invited to “tea sessions” — a colloquial term for police interrogations — for attempting to buy faith-based texts from the e-commerce site Wheat Bookstore via the mobile messaging app WeChat.
The religious liberty watchdog International Christian Concern reported that one man, a Christian, was “recently visited by local state security officials thanks to the purchase he made last year.”
“He was asked to provide his cell phone number and WeChat account and had to sign a document to confirm his religious affiliation,” ICC reported. “His supervisor was asked to sign as well.”
Following that incident, Wheat Bookstore issued a statement, warning customers any purchases made on the website could result in a visit from the police.
In addition, China announced this week all citizens registering new SIM cards will be forced to submit to facial recognition scans. The guideline, which was first implemented in September, requires telecommunications companies to use “artificial intelligence and other technical methods” to confirm the identities of people purchasing SIM cards, according to The Guardian.
The government has claimed the invasive rule is intended to “protect the legitimate rights and interest of citizens in cyberspace,” but it will nevertheless make it that much easier for the communist regime to keep track of citizens who use the internet and mobile phones.
Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, described the step as an extension of China’s “dystopian surveillance state.”