Residents of Xinjiang, an ethnic minority region of western China, are being forced to install spyware on their mobile phones.
On July 10, mobile phone users in the Tianshan District of Urumqi City received a mobile phone notification from the district government instructing them to install a surveillance
application called Jingwang (or “Web Cleansing”). The message said the app was intended to “prevent [them] from accessing terrorist
But authorities may be using the app for more than just counter-terrorism. According to an exclusive report from Radio Free Asia, 10 Kazakh women from Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture were arrested for messages sent to a private WeChat group chat soon after they installed the app.
The notification from police said the application would locate and track the sources and distribution paths of terrorists, along with “illegal religious” activity and “harmful information,” including videos, images, ebooks and documents.
Jingwang's website describes the application as follows:
Of course, any tool with these capabilities could be used in multiple ways. For example, the app's “remote control” feature could enable state actors or even hackers to manipulate or steal from a person's home network.
The move is consistent with other measures of control over digital activities in the region. While stories of digital censorship in China
often focus on the experiences of users in major cities in the east and south, the reality is often more bleak for those living in remote, embattled ethnic minority regions such as Xinjiang and Tibet. Seeking to contain unrest and discontent in conflict areas, authorities often impose extreme censorship and surveillance
measures and routine Internet shutdowns.
A Twitter-based media outlet, “Images from mainland China” (????????), which covers censored news in China, posted photos taken from a checkpoint where police officers randomly checked residents to see if they have installed the surveillance
“Images from mainland China” (????????) also posted a product description of Jingwang which explained that the tool can negate the password requirement of a Windows operating system and access the computer hard disk with no restrictions.
The Jingwang requirement may be a response to the city party committee’s instruction to crack down on the distribution of illegal content. All government branches and government and party affiliated institutions, including universities and research organizations, are obligated to follow instructions from the Cybersecurity Office on managing their computer and communication networks.
A recent report from Freedom House, a US-based human rights group, also touched on the new surveillance