A report from Freedom House has found that China has been using the COVID-19 pandemic in order to expand its Internet surveillance efforts. According to the report, China has come last in terms of Internet freedom. This is the sixth year in a row.
“This pandemic is normalising the sort of digital authoritarianism that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has long sought to the mainstream,” wrote Freedom House in a statement.
China restricted citizens from accessing information on the state of the pandemic in the nation. Independent news that was critical to the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) official narrative, as well as sources that were not biased towards the CCP, were further restricted. The CCP has also increased its efforts to reduce the use of VPNs in order to bypass restrictions, with data in the report suggesting that the Chinese Government has been successful.
“[N]owhere has censorship been more sophisticated and systematic than in China,” says the report.
With over 30 thousand website deletions in the first quarter of 2020, the deployment of internet trolls, arrests, and increased policing, the surveillance state in China has reached “unprecedented extremes”.
The Epoch Times reported that, in February 2020, over 1,600 Internet trolls were employed to take down sensitive information in the Hubei province regarding the Coronavirus pandemic. They were tasked with removing rumours and spreading praise for the CCP.
In March this year, China was also working on improving its facial recognition service in order to detect people wearing masks.
According to Sarah Cook, a senior researcher at Freedom House, the spread of the pandemic is directly tied to the expansion of the CCP’s control of speech on the Internet.