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A QR code design created using different varieties of rice in Shenyang, China. Photo: STR/AFP via Getty Images

The lines between online and offline political suppression in China are becoming increasingly blurred, say experts, as Beijing accelerates the export of its surveillance methods.

What's going on: The latest example is the placement of QR codes outside the homes of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang to collect information on the residents, according to Human Rights Watch.

  • Based on interviews with 58 Uighur Muslims formerly living in the far west region of Xinjiang, Human Rights Watch reports that the Chinese government is placing QR codes on houses to vacuum up information on residents into a scannable bite.
  • The QR program is part of a larger picture in which Beijing is using Xinjiang as a petri dish for its newest surveillance technologies, says Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch.
  • Beijing has detained about a million Uighurs in political indoctrination camps and enacted a regime of DNA and voice data collection.

The tech behind QR codes is simple, but in the context of surveillance, they allow authorities to access massive amounts of personal data in seconds.

  • Richardson says that police in Xinjiang have collected data on matters like how many times a day a person prays, whether they have relatives outside of the country and where their political loyalties lie.
  • The data goes beyond what's publicly available, she says.

What to watch: China is already exporting "smart city" surveillance and policing technology to the states with governments like its own. As we have reported, recipients include Iran, Russia and several others.

  • China is showing these countries that they can "have thriving digital economies and, at the same time, use that technology to promote advances in surveillance," says Samm Sacks of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The bottom line: The internet has long been a powerful tool for social change, propelling political protests and movements around the world, perhaps most notably the Arab Spring revolts. But China "turns that model on its head," says Sacks. Beijing has become adept at using the internet as a force of control.

Go deeper: The U.S. tech companies that power China's state surveillance

Go deeper

Alabama's new congressional map rejected by federal judges

The Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery. Photo: Taylor Hill/Getty Images

Federal judges on Monday night blocked Alabama's newly drawn congressional map and ordered the Republican-led State Legislature to create a new one that includes two districts, rather than the planned one.

Why it matters: "Black voters have less opportunity than other Alabamians to elect candidates of their choice to Congress," the panel of three judges wrote in their ruling.

Australian Open organizers reverse "Where is Peng Shuai?" t-shirt ban

Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai during the 2020 Australian Open in Melbourne. Photo: Bai Xue/Xinhua via Getty Images

Australian Open organizers on Tuesday reversed a ban on t-shirts supporting Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai following widespread criticism.

Why it matters: Tennis Australia's announcement came less than 24 hours after the governing body defended the decision to ask fans last Friday to remove "Where is Peng Shuai?" t-shirts, citing ticket policy prohibiting political clothing, per the BBC.

FDA limits use of Regeneron and Lilly COVID antibody treatments

A coldbox containing monoclonal antibody treatments at a Regeneron clinic in Pembroke Pines, Florida, in August. Photo: Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The FDA said Monday it's limiting the use of two monoclonal antibody therapies as COVID-19 treatments because data indicates they're "highly unlikely" to be effective against the dominant Omicron variant.

Driving the news: The FDA revised the authorizations for Regeneron and Eli Lilly "to limit their use to only when the patient is likely to have been infected with or exposed to a variant that is susceptible to these treatments," per a statement from the agency.

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