A recent investigation has raised concerns that a Chinese anti-fraud app may be utilized as a surveillance tool targeting Tibetans. The report, compiled by Tibet research groups, suggests that the app has the capability to monitor users’ text messages, internet browsing activities, and access personal data, potentially infringing upon privacy rights.
Tightening Restrictions in Tibet
The findings come amidst increasing restrictions in Tibet, with rights groups highlighting intensified state surveillance and censorship, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Regions such as Tibet and Xinjiang have faced heightened scrutiny, with Beijing citing concerns over separatism and emphasizing nationalist unity under President Xi Jinping’s leadership.
The Controversial National Anti-Fraud Centre App
The focus of the report is on the National Anti-Fraud Centre app, launched in 2021. While initially presented as a tool to combat scams and fraud, the investigation suggests that the app’s features could be exploited for surveillance purposes. Notably, it can monitor text messages, call logs, internet browsing histories, and capture users’ inputs, including passwords and photos.
Forced Downloads and Coercion
The report alleges instances of coercion, with some Tibetans reportedly forced to download the app. Complaints emerged shortly after its launch, with reports of mandatory installations on millions of phones. Some government agencies made it a requirement for employees, while others mandated its use for enrolling children in schools or obtaining identification cards.
Potential Exploitation and Data Harvesting
The app’s face recognition feature raises concerns about the potential harvesting of personal data, enhancing tracking and monitoring capabilities. Additionally, revelations from government procurement notices suggest the maintenance of a database of individuals deemed as threats to stability, further fueling apprehensions about data exploitation.
Call for Action
The report calls for greater privacy protections, investigation into claims of coercion, and vigilance from international entities to prevent support for China’s mass surveillance programs. It underscores the importance of safeguarding privacy rights amidst growing concerns over state surveillance and censorship in China.
Ongoing Concerns in Tibet and Beyond
China’s grip on Tibet has long been a subject of contention, with activists highlighting restrictions on freedom of travel and communication. Similar mass surveillance tactics have been deployed in Xinjiang, targeting Uyghur Muslims, drawing international condemnation.
As China continues to expand its surveillance apparatus, concerns persist over the erosion of privacy rights and the implications for marginalized communities such as Tibetans and Uyghurs.
Input from BBC