In a bid to ramp up surveillance measures against Muslims, Chinese authorities instructed its citizens to install a “surveillance app” on their phones.
A letter was sent out by authorities in Xinjiang region of the country — which is home to the country’s Muslim minority — to ensure all Muslims are notified. Spot checks in the region are also being carried out to make sure citizens have the app installed.
A notice written in both Uyghur and Chinese was sent out to the residents.
Citizens who own an Android phone were asked to scan the QR code and download the “Jing Wang” app. According to authorities, the app would “automatically detect terrorist and illegal religious videos, images, e-books and electronic documents” that people have in their phones.
If authorities detect any inappropriate media, they will immediately ask the person to delete it. Furthermore, it was also reported that people who delete the app or refuse to install the app will be subjected to 10 days in prison.
The app reportedly has the ability to scan for the MD5 digital signatures of media files and can match them to a stored database. The database has classified files that are listed as illegal “terrorist-related” media by the government.
The surveillance doesn’t end there. The app also keeps a copy of Weibo, WeChat records, IMEI numbers, SIM card data, Wifi login data and then sends it to the server.
“Chinese police are so powerful, particularly in Xinjiang, [that] anyone being stopped is unlikely to be able to refuse the police's requests. The authorities have a lot of explaining to do about this software, including what it does," said Maya Wang, a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch.
“While the authorities have the responsibility to protect public safety, including by fighting terrorism, such mass collection of data from ordinary people is a form of mass surveillance and an intrusion to privacy," she added.
Joshua Rosenzweig, a Hong Kong-based analyst with Amnesty International said, “I think there is reason to be concerned about what kinds of data these apps may be collecting about users and their activity without their knowledge or consent.”
This is not the first such incident of oppression against the Muslim Uyghur population in the country. In 2015, China banned the community from fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. They were asked to swear, orally and in writing, "guaranteeing they have no faith, will not attend religious activities and will lead the way in not fasting over Ramadan."
Uyghur Muslim retailers and restaurant owners were ordered in a Xinjiang village to sell alcohol and cigarettes — while promoting them in “eye-catching displays” — in what was seen as an attempt to “weaken” Islam’s hold on local residents.
China has two Muslim groups: Hui and Uyghur. But it treats the two differently because Uyghur, unlike Hui, have refused to abandon their traditional practices.
China forces Uyghurs to install spyware on their phones. https://t.co/SvfmtndlTs— Nitin Pai (@acorn) July 21, 2017
Banner/thumbnail credit: Reuters, Carlos Barria