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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

34 mins ago - Sports

Jill Biden cheers on Team USA at Tokyo Olympics

Jill Biden congratulates U.S. women 3x3 basketball team after the first round 3x3 basketball match. Photo: Mustafa Yalcin/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

First lady Jill Biden attended three Olympic events on Saturday and hosted a watch party at the U.S. Embassy for the Team USA-Mexico softball game.

Driving the news: On her first day as a spectator at the Games, Biden attended a women's 3x3 basketball game, cheered on American swimmers during preliminary heats and caught the second half of the U.S. women's soccer game against New Zealand.

44 mins ago - Sports

Team USA closes out Day 1 of Summer Olympics with no medals

Eli Dershwitz of Team United States reacts in his men’s sabre individual bout against Junghwan Kim of Korea of the fencing on day one of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Photo: Elsa / Getty Images

Team USA concluded the first official day of competition at the Tokyo Olympics on Saturday without winning a single medal despite several close contests.

Why it matters: Olympic historian Bill Mallon noted that this was the first time the United States did not receive any medals on Day 1 of the Summer Olympics since Munich in 1972.

G20 coal impasse previews fraught UN climate summit

A man tends to vegetables in a field as emissions rise from nearby cooling towers of a coal-fired power station in Tongling, Anhui province, China, Jan. 16, 2019. (Qilai Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

G20 environment ministers ended talks without agreeing to phase out domestic coal-fired power generation and funding for such plants abroad, a deadlock that foreshadows difficult negotiations looming for this fall's critical climate summit.

Driving the news: Officials who met in Naples, Italy, on Thursday and Friday could not find consensus language on the use and financing of the most carbon-emitting fuel.

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