“Sharp Eyes” increases the number of cameras on streets, part of China’s plan to install them everywhere, monitoring everyone, including people of faith.
China is without a doubt becoming the total surveillance state, installing an absurd number of surveillance cameras on streets, all main entrances to villages, and construction signs for even more cameras dot all over, setting into full motion the “Sharp Eyes” Project. With the increasing surveillance, the already persecuted religious individuals find themselves at more risk.
Sharp Eyes, sometimes called “Project Dazzling Snow” or “Xue Liang,” is a new surveillance program targeted at rural areas. It’s being tested in 50 Chinese towns but will be soon implemented nationwide. It was approved in 2016 by the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which desires to have “coverage across all regions, sharing across all networks, availability at all times, and controllability at all points” by 2020.
And residents of the Baqiao district of Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi Province in central China, have noticed the fruits of the government’s desire: Residents say that, since October 2018, they’ve seen a rapid influx of surveillance cameras. According to sources, there are now construction points for Sharp Eyes on all of the main roads and at all of the entrances to villages under the jurisdiction of Xi’an. At their closest, they are less than 30 meters apart, and at the farthest, they are spaced apart 300 to 500 meters.
Key areas, like four-way intersections, have more than twice as many surveillance cameras now than they did previously. As the Los Angeles Times noted, for China’s 1.4 billion people, there are 176 million public and private surveillance cameras.
“When a resident of Anxi village in the Sichuan province of China set a match to a small pile of garbage in the gutter two years ago, a loudspeaker blared out his name and address and ordered him to extinguish the blaze immediately. He jumped with fright, quickly put out the flames and scurried away,” The Times reported.
And according to a Radio Free Asia report, the company behind the Sharp Eyes claims to have developed the system by using home televisions and smartphones to push video surveillance into people’s homes – that way, everyone can be monitored, everything can be seen, and the system can respond in real time. Put simply, it means the CCP can use household electric appliances, cell phones, and other devices to monitor people’s home lives whenever they want. The surveillance platform will use artificial intelligence and facial recognition to analyze the data that comes in.
According to CCP media reports, Sharp Eyes is designed for public security, crime prevention, and control; and, if the Party is to be believed, to make people feel secure and at ease with the monitoring in and of their homes. However, Bitter Winter learned that the opposite is true: The majority of the populace finds the powerful surveillance capabilities of Sharp Eyes to be hair-raising. Locals have expressed concern, saying: “The CCP is already monitoring us in our homes, what privacy do we have left? It’s like we’ve all got ropes around our necks and are being led on leashes. We’re all living under a microscope, and it’s terrifying.”
The constant surveillance comes with a special fear for religious individuals who are finding themselves increasingly at risk of big trouble.
In fact, the surveillance cameras have become the authorities’ most effective weapon over the past few years for monitoring the government-sanctioned places of worship as well as cracking down on the not-sanctioned churches and arresting believers.
Bitter Winter has previously published an internal CCP document, titled Compilation of Special Operation Exemplary Cases, in which it details how much authorities spent on surveillance systems to monitor believers: In Xun county of Henan Province’s Hebi city, the authorities spent nearly 900,000 RMB or $130,000 on cameras that were later installed at 53 local religious sites. Of those 53 houses of worship, already five of them have been shut down permanently.
Surveillance cameras have been installed in churches across the country; there are as many as six to eight cameras installed at some individual churches, inside and out. The government has access to the content of sermons as well as information regarding the lives of those who participate in congregations. If anyone goes against the government’s demands even a little, they’ll be punished.
Even more disastrous, since last year, the government has launched efforts to register basic information for all religious individuals across all regions throughout the country – especially for members of religious groups like Falun Gong and The Church of Almighty God. According to reports from religious believers across multiple regions, government employees force believers to be photographed to go with the personal information they’ve already registered. When asked why they were photographing them, the government employees were secretive; some claim it was to cancel their criminal records, with others saying it was to prove they were alive and healthy. Most, however, just took the photos with no explanation.
According to a leak from an inside source at the public security organs, the pictures of the religious individuals will be uploaded to the Internet to establish a file for them. Using sophisticated electric surveillance equipment, such as that employed for Sharp Eyes project.
Recently, after a Christian from The Church of Almighty God in Chengde city in the northern province of Hebei, was apprehended, the police played for her the footage they had taken of her during 11 months of surveillance on her, including the information they had on the church members she had been in contact with. The police claim that they have a clear grasp of where she attended religious meetings, the status of her rented places, etc., for nearly a year.
With this terrifying surveillance, it is nearly impossible for believers to congregate.
When interviewed by Bitter Winter, one Christian from a rural house church said that the state’s widespread persecution of churches in the past year has already left Christians with nowhere to hide, and some Christians have even been forced to go to mountains, forests, and wheat fields to congregate.
“If they install any more surveillance cameras in the village, there will truly be nowhere left to go,” the Christian said. “During the Cultural Revolution, some Christians were able to dig underground cellars for congregations, but I fear in the future we won’t even have a chance to do that.”
Reported by Yao Zhangjin
Correction (March 22, 2019): The name of the company that developed the Sharp Eyes technology was misquoted in the original text. It is not Bell New Vision Co. but Guangdong-based Aebell Technology Corporation.