Hong Kong authorities have implemented tracking methods in an attempt to curtail civil unrest by tracking protestors via facial recognition cameras and their cell phones. Residents protesting against a bill that would allow Hong Kong citizens to be extradited to China.
Problems and Purpose
The problems to be addressed by this organized process are freedom of speech in being allowed to protest, rights to privacy being violated, and invasive government surveillance. Protestors in Hong Kong disagree with a bill that would allow residents to be extradited to China and want to maintain their right to disagree with and protest this . Citizens had no say in deciding that facial recognition was permissible, and many disagree with this invasive tactic . Not only does the photographing violate their right to privacy in having their image captured and movements tracked, but it also allows the government to surveil individuals and intervene in their lives if it deems their behavior unacceptable or suspicious . The purpose of their organizing is to combat decisions by the government that do not serve the people by sending a message that citizens will not let their autonomy be taken from them, as well as combat these extreme efforts by the government that they disagree with.
Background History and Context
In April 2019, the Hong Kong government introduced plans to change legislation to allow for Hong Kong citizens under criminal investigation to be extradited to China . This announcement caused mass upset as citizens feared arbitrary government punishment and harsh treatment by the Chinese government . In the wake of protests and demonstrations, the Hong Kong government began using advanced surveillance techniques in an attempt to curtail the civil unrest .
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
This movement is completely organized by citizens. There are no supporting or funding entities involved. Hong Kong citizens organize amongst themselves in grassroots efforts to rebel against the state.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
The process was organized via self-selection by participants . Due to the severe surveillance by authorities, online organization and recruitment was not possible . Participants noted the need for going dark on social media because the government was tracking them and would intervene and shut down demonstrations when possible. Participants did not take photos or post information regarding events or organization in an attempt to avoid this interference (Mahtani 2019).
Methods and Tools Used
Participants use a variety of methods to counteract state surveillance including lasers, face coverings, VPNs on cell phones to prevent tracking, avoiding taking any photos or posting any identifiable info online, and secret communication via the telegram app . All methods are innovative and discovered by participants and then shared with other participants by word of mouth or secret communication apps.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
Civil unrest in response to the proposed bill began in June 2019 and ended in September 2019 . Protestors began using lasers to blind police cameras as well as wearing face coverings to avoid recognition . Following a police intervention using tear gas during a protest, participants also began being more careful about technology use . The state was using cellular devices and online activity to monitor and shut down civil unrest activities by targeting organizers and events . In response, participants began using virtual private networks (VPNs), temporary sim cards, and encrypted apps such as Telegram to hide their cellular activity from state surveillance . Additionally, participants stopped recording any record of events digitally . No photos or posts were made regarding events before or after taking place . Participation in this process grows organically through demonstrations as participants are self-selected and organization then happens through word of mouth and secret communications through apps like Telegram . Participants are dedicated to evolving methods in order to stay ahead of the authorities and to avoid being tracked. They adjust methods accordingly as the government catches up to them.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
There is evidence that this process influenced policy. Following months of protests, Hong Kong’s leader announced that the extradition bill was being withdrawn on September 4, 2019 . The impact of this process socially is a strengthened dedication to coalition building within the community to fight for fundamental rights as citizens. The participants demonstrated an unwavering loyalty to fighting for their right to privacy and voice in policy matters through group participation. Participants expressed a strong will to continue fighting and evolving to stay ahead of authorities in order to assert their wants in opposition to the government. Following this success, citizens will likely be more inclined to engage in similar group participation when disagreements with the government arise.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Without having a concrete measure to show that this participation caused the Hong Kong government to retract the bill, it can only be inferred that this action by citizens had a substantial influence on this decision. In terms of group citizen participation, this process was very successful. All methods implemented effectively blocked government surveillance and continuously evolved to stay steps ahead of the state. The group efforts and innovations made by participants allowed citizens to continue protesting and avoid being tracked. Their group engagement was successful in allowing the movement to continue until a policy change was made.
 Anthony Cuthbertson. (2019, August 1). Hong Kong protesters use lasers to avoid facial recognition cameras. Retrieved from https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/hong-kong-protests-lasers-facial-recognition-ai-china-police-a9033046.html.
 Hong Kong-China extradition plans explained. (2019, August 22). Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-47810723.
 Hong Kong: Timeline of extradition protests. (2019, September 4). Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-49340717.
 Mahtani, S. (2019, June 16). Hong Kong protesters coordinate to beat Chinese surveillance. Retrieved from https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/hong-kong-protests-c hina-surveillance-tech-telegram-extradition-bill-a8960911.html.
 Mozur, P. (2019, July 26). In Hong Kong Protests, Faces Become Weapons. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/26/technology/hong-kong-protests-facial-recognition-surveillance.html.
The first version of this case entry was written by Jacey Winn, a Master of Public Service candidate at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, and then edited. The views expressed in the entry are those of the authors, editors, or cited sources, and are not necessarily those of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service.