China’s border patrol has
reportedly been installing surveillance software on border crossers’ phones
without their knowledge, according
to an investigation
by the Guardian, The New York
Times and Süddeutsche Zeitung. The software, the investigation
claims, tracks travelers’ movement and secretly collects emails, texts,
contacts and other phone information.

This practice is taking place at
the Irkeshtam border between the Kyrgyzstan and Xinjiang regions where China
has apparently been enforcing restrictions on the Muslim population. Chinese
officials may be looking for terrorism-related or extremist content.

When asked, tourists reacted with
surprise, saying they had no idea the border patrol was stealing personal
information or that they were subject to extensive screening, as no one had
asked for their permission to install software on their phones.

“We thought it was a GPS
tracker,” he said. “[The travel company] was pretty sure we were going to have
this thing put in.”

According to the Guardian, a
number of Android phones end up with an application called Fēng cǎi (蜂采).
There’s no English translation but it allegedly has something to do with bees
collecting honey. As per one of the interviews, travelers are asked to release
their phones and passwords at a checkpoint. The devices are then sent to a
separate room where the app is probably installed, and returned one hour later.

“We already know that Xinjiang
residents, particularly Turkic Muslims, are
subjected to round-the-clock and multidimensional surveillance in the region
,”
said Maya Wang, China senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. “What you have
found goes beyond that. It suggests that even foreigners are subjected to such
mass and unlawful surveillance.”