Chinese border officials secretly installing surveillance applications on visitor phones - investigation

Chinese flag.
Chinese flag. Photo credit: File.

Chinese border officials have been secretly installing surveillance software onto the phones of visitors, an investigation has claimed.

On Tuesday, a joint-investigation from groups, including The Guardian and the New York Times, revealed border police at the Irkeshtam border between China's Xinjian region and Kyrgyzstan were using surveillance technology on visitors' phones.

It claimed officials were taking Android phones from some travellers at the border and secretly installing a surveillance application that can survey and download emails, messages, contacts and other personal information.

The application allegedly examines the device for content which may be viewed as problematic, such as that associated with Islam or weapons operations manuals. But The Guardian reports it also searches for other information like music by a Japanese band or Ramadan fasting.

While most travellers found the app was uninstalled before their phones were given back to them, some found the app still on their phones.  

The Guardian reports that the application could be used to track individuals by extracting information about the individual device.

iPhones were also allegedly being taken but not installed with an app. Instead, a reader scans them for the content.

The tourists say there have been no warnings of the procedure from guards.

Edin Omanovic, from Privacy International, called the findings "highly alarming". 

"This is yet another example of why the surveillance regime in Xinjiang is one of the most unlawful, pervasive and draconian in the world."

The Chinese Government hasn't responded to investigators' attempt at gaining comment.


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