If you’re planning to cross the border of the Xinjiang region in China, be prepared for the border guards to cross the digital border into your phone’s data. Travelers entering the Xinjiang region, an autonomous territory located in Northwest China, are facing phone seizures by border guards at the Irkeshtam border crossing with Kyrgyzstan.
At the border, a surveillance app called Fengcai is installed onto travelers’ phones. It scans phone data, including contacts, email addresses and texts.
The app is programmed to search for over 73,000 different types of information.
What are they trying to find within a persons’ digital borders? Guards ransack phones for everything including terms that indicate a link to Islamic extremism, music from certain musical groups, and the writings of the Dalai Lama.
The Fengcai app generates a report that aggregates a given phone’s data. The report is then uploaded to a server.
Hints in Fengcai’s source code indicate that the app is made by Nanjing FiberHome StarrySky Communication Development Company, an optical cable and telecom equipment company partly owned by the Chinese government.
In recent months, Chinese government surveillance of the Xinjiang region received intense scrutiny from the international community as news of the extreme surveillance of minority populations and their subsequent placement into detention camps has come to light.
Although the app is removed when travelers leave Xinjiang, the surveillance malware is just one of the many tech tools used to monitor the behavior and actions of people in the region. The usage of the app calls into question individual rights to digital privacy.
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