Surveillance state. Android phones belonging to tourists reportedly have spy app secretly installed
Border guards in the Chinese region of Xinjiang routinely install a secret spy app on the Android smartphones belonging to tourists, it has been reported.
The border guards reportedly take tourists phones and install the spy app, which can steal emails, texts and contacts, along with information about the handset itself.
China is known to have some of the most oppressive surveillance laws in the world, but it is worth noting that it is not the only country to inspect people’s phones when crossing the border. US customs officials for example can demand that travellers to the US must unlock their mobile devices for inspection.
But now an investigation by carried out by The Guardian newspaper, along with The New York Times, and Süddeutsche Zeitung, found that the Chinese are actively targeting travellers entering the Chinese region of Xinjiang from Kyrgyzstan.
Xinjiang is said to have a local Muslim population and the Chinese government has curbed freedoms in the province with the installation of facial recognition cameras on streets and in mosques, and reportedly has forced residents to download software that searches their phones.
Analysis by the Guardian suggests the Fēng cǎi app, designed by a Chinese company, searches Android phones against a huge list of content that the authorities deem problematic.
This reportedly includes a variety of terms associated with Islamist extremism, but the spy app also searches for information on a range of other material.
The app is able to be installed because at the Irkeshtam crossing, travellers are made to unlock and hand over their phones and other devices such as cameras. The devices are then taken away to a separate room and returned some time later.
And it is not just Android devices.
The Guardian reported that Apple iPhones are plugged into a reader that scans them, while Android phones have the app installed to do the same job.
The newspaper reported that in most cases the app is uninstalled before the phone is returned, but some travellers have found the spy app still on their phone.
“We already know that Xinjiang residents, particularly Turkic Muslims–, are subjected to round-the-clock and multidimensional surveillance in the region,” Maya Wang, China senior researcher at Human Rights Watch told the Guardian.
“What you have found goes beyond that. It suggests that even foreigners are subjected to such mass and unlawful surveillance.”
The use of the app came to light after travellers reportedly took their phone to reporters in Germany.
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