Earlier this year, the Human Rights Watch exposed how police in a Chinese region called Xinjiang used a smartphone app to monitor (and oppress) its people.
The app monitors everything, from flagging use of banned apps such as WhatsApp to gaining access to contacts, text messages, and almost everything else on a user’s smartphone. And this data would then be used by the police to decide which individuals to question or detain.
"This is yet another example of why the surveillance regime in Xinjiang is one of the most unlawful, pervasive, and draconian in the world."
However, a new investigation carried out by Motherboard, The Guardian, the New York Times, and others, has now revealed that smartphone surveillance in Xinjiang is imposed on tourists as well.
According to the report, foreigners crossing into Xinjiang are “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.”
The malware, named Feng Cai or BXAQ, scans the target device’s files against a huge target list of over 70,000 files, including things like Islamic extremist content, and even things like installed copies of the Quran, “innocuous Islamic material, academic books on Islam by leading researchers, and even music from a Japanese metal band.”
China has repeatedly claimed that its actions in Xinjiang are internal affairs and the international community shouldn’t try to interfere with however China chooses to handle its “counter-terrorism” efforts within its borders.
"There is an increasing trend around the world to treat borders as law-free zones where authorities have the right to carry out whatever outrageous form of surveillance they want," Edin Omanovic, state surveillance programme lead at Privacy International said.
"But they’re not: the whole point of basic rights is that you’re entitled to them wherever you are. Western liberal democracies intent on implementing increasingly similar surveillance regimes at the border should look to what China is doing here and consider if this is really the model of security they want to be pursuing."
These reports, however, just go to show how China is carrying out mass surveillance under the guise of counter-terrorism, and not just on its locals, but even tourists and foreigners visiting the country are subjected to such invasive surveillance activities.