How people in China are trying to evade Beijing’s digital surveillance

One Country, Two Phones

Date: August 6, 2019
By: Jane Li

Big brother and sister are watching.
In the face of mounting pressure on personal freedom, Chinese internet users appear to be trying more actively to push back against tightening digital surveillance from Beijing. 

On both Chinese and foreign websites, discussions, tips and software hacks to combat the government’s grip over cyberspace have picked up in recent months. The advice represents a rare wave of resistance to the government’s use of intrusive surveillance tools to gather data on its citizens, and comes as a number of recent media reports have reignited the fears of many that they could face repercussions for seeking out content deemed “sensitive” by the ruling Communist party.

People in China are already aware that their online communications, even messages sent in private chats, are subject to monitoring and censorship. But recently, there has been a string of events that have left many worried that surveillance is becoming even more intrusive. There’s been coverage about phone-monitoring apps being installed on citizens’ devices, along with widely shared reports of police in Beijing conducting checks on people’s mobile phones, as well as accounts from some Chinese Twitter users on being questioned (link in Chinese) by the police for accessing the banned social network in China.

There was suspicion, in the case of checking phones, that police were searching for information related to the recent protests in Hong Kong, where hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to protest against a controversial extradition law. The anxiety reached such heights that the Beijing police issued a statement to explain they were only checking IDs (link in Chinese) as part of routine police patrols.

The explanation did little to reassure internet users. Twitter user RF Parsley, who says he is a foreigner living in the Chinese capital, said he personally saw such checks take place. “I was surprised to see them asking for phones, and then, once they had them, asking for passwords and scrolling through,” he told Quartz. And a Beijing-based Chinese Twitter user, who didn’t want to be identified, said a colleague had his phone checked by police in Beijing recently. The police checked his photo albums and what apps he had on his phone, the user said.    [FULL  STORY]