China develops new ways to spy on its citizens

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Espionage tasks in the Chinese government are recurring even to drones disguised as birds

Cyber security organization reports claim that China has begun to deploy flocks of drones disguised as birds to monitor its citizens. The devices have wings that are stirred so realistically that they are difficult to distinguish from a real bird, even the real birds in the sky sometimes fly alongside the drones. These robotic birds can mimic up to 90% of the movements of their biological counterparts, and are also very quiet, which helps them avoid detection.

The key name of the operation is “Dove”, and many claim to have reasons to doubt the Government’s intentions with this project. Yang Wenqing, a member of the team behind Dove, said technology has “some unique advantages that match with the demand for drones in the military and civil sectors”.

The Chinese Government’s implementation of such technologies is alarmingly often mentioned by various media. For example, some employees have to wear helmets that scan their brainwaves for anger, depression, anxiety or fatigue, and that alerts their bosses to any perceived problems. Then there is the country’s social credit system, which monitors the behavior of millions of people (even through social networks and online purchases), determines how moral or immoral the citizen is, and increases or decreases its “citizen score” accordingly. Those with a high score are rewarded, while those with a low score are punished.

Even in a country known for extreme espionage over its entire population, the degree of vigilance directed at Muslims in particular is puzzling. It is estimated that between 22 and 25 million of Muslims live in China, out of a total population of 1.4 billion. Last year, a study by a cyber security organization found that comprehensive surveillance affects many religious groups, and both Muslims and Protestant Christians and Tibetan Buddhists experienced an increase in persecution in the last 5 years.

Until now, Dove’s unmanned aircraft have been tested in more than five provinces, and it may not be a coincidence that they have been widely used in a particular area: Xinjiang, a region of the northwest populated by an ethnic minority mostly Muslim. The government has for a long time considered the region a breeding ground for separatism and extremism. The area is now subject to a higher level of surveillance, with authorities collecting DNA samples, fingerprints, iris scanners, voice samples, and residents’ blood types.

“The Chinese government thinks these Muslims have wrong thoughts”, wrote Maya Wang, an expert researcher on the Asian country, “because they identify more with Turks and Muslims. To correct these thoughts, and turn them into loyal servants of the Chinese Communist Party, the government needs to redesign their identities and control them closely”.

Cyber security organization experts from the International Institute of Cyber Security say that Chinese surveillance experiments are having an impact in other parts of the world, as some of the new technologies that authorities allow to test in the Muslim territories could be adopted by other totalitarian regimes.