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Religious Freedom in China’s High-Tech Surveillance State

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During the past decade, the Chinese government has increasingly employed advanced technology to amplify its repression of religious and faith communities. Authorities have installed surveillance cameras both outside and inside houses of worship to monitor and identify attendees. The government has deployed facial recognition systems that are purportedly able to distinguish Uighurs and Tibetans from other ethnic groups. Chinese authorities have also collected biometric information—including blood samples, voice recordings, and fingerprints—from religious and faith communities, often without their consent. The government uses advanced computing platforms and artificial intelligence to collate and recognize patterns in the data on religious and faith communities. Chinese technology companies have aided the government’s crackdown on religion and belief by supplying advanced hardware and computing systems to government agencies. In response to these developments, several members of the U.S. Congress have called for greater restrictions on the export of advanced technology to China. This country update provides a brief overview of the types of technology implicated in religious freedom abuses in China, with examples from specific Chinese companies, as well as the current state of U.S. policy.