China is Forcing Kenyan Tourists to Install Phone Surveillance Software Before Entering the Country

    Surveillance cameras are ubiquitous in China’s Xinjiang region.CreditCreditGreg Baker/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

    Kenyans entering China will be forced to install data stealing software which will enable the Chinese government directly hack into their phones to download their  text messages, calendar entries, and phone logs, as well as scanning their devices for over 70,000 different files.This directive, seen as a breach of privacy points to the growing authoritarianism as well as intolerance of the Chinese government to foreign nationals.

    Tourists who intend to visit the the Xinjiang region, where authorities are conducting a massive surveillance and oppression against the local Muslim population are being forced to install this software in a collaboration by Motherboard, Süddeutsche Zeitung, the Guardian, the New York Times, and the German public broadcaster NDR has found.

    Once a visitor enters the Xinjiang border, the malware is installed by a border guard when they physically seize the phone, also scans the tourist or traveler’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.

    “This app provides yet another source of evidence showing how pervasive mass surveillance is being carried out in Xinjiang. 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, said.

    “What you’ve found goes beyond that: it suggests that even foreigners are subjected to such mass, and unlawful surveillance.”

    A  tourist who crossed the border and had the malware installed on their device provided a copy to Süddeutsche Zeitung and Motherboard. A member of the reporting team  from from Süddeutsche Zeitung then also crossed the border and had the same malware installed on their own phone.

    This latest move by the Chinese government points to its increasing authoritarianism as well as the declining democratic space.



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