Foreigners crossing certain Chinese borders into the Xinjiang region, where authorities are conducting a massive campaign of surveillance and oppression against the local Muslim population, are being forced to install a piece of malware on their phones that gives all of their text messages as well as other pieces of data to the authorities, a collaboration by Motherboard, Süddeutsche Zeitung, the Guardian, the New York Times, and the German public broadcaster NDR has found.
The Android malware, which is installed by a border guard when they physically seize the phone, also scans the tourist or traveller’s device for a specific set of files, according to multiple expert analyses of the software. The files authorities are looking for include Islamic extremist content, but also innocuous Islamic material, academic books on Islam by leading researchers, and even music from a Japanese metal band.
In no way is the downloading of tourists’ text messages and other mobile phone data comparable to the treatment of the Uighur population in Xinjiang, who live under the constant gaze of facial recognition systems, CCTV, and physical searches. Last week, VICE News published an undercover documentary detailing some of the human rights abuses and surveillance against the Uighur population. But the malware news shows that the Chinese government’s aggressive style of policing and surveillance in the Xinjiang region has extended to foreigners, too. [Continue reading…]