When it comes to malware here in the US most uses of is avoidable or is the result of another person’s malicious actions. They get it by not paying attention to a link that they are clicking on or are tricked into visiting a page that infects their computer. Could it be possible for a nation to force people to install malware on their phones just to enter certain parts of the country? Yes, it can.

Chinese Authorities Installing Malware On Tourists’ Phones

Tourists entering the Chinese province of Xinjiang have to hand over their phones to border guards. Those guards will then install a malware program and they search the phone. What they are looking for according to a German reporter is any Islamic-related content, anything about the Dalai Lama and music from a Japanese metal band called Unholy Grave. 


Xinjiang has become a thorn in the side of the Chinese Communist Party. The region is inhabited by Turkic Muslims as well as other minority groups. The province has been Muslim since the 1000s and survived Genghis Khan only to be annexed by the Qing Dynasty in the 1800s. It is located in the far western part of China and is claimed by India but administered by China as the Xinjiang Autonomous Region. Around 20 million people call the area home. This province also includes many Tibetans (Tibet is located just to the south of Xinjiang).

In 2014 China began detaining members of the minority Uyghur population and placing them in “re-education” camps. A massive surveillance apparatus has also been installed to monitor the populace, particularly the Uyghurs. The area has seen much in the way of ethnic tensions and has had several terrorist attacks, including one only days before the Beijing Olympic Games opened in 2008. 2014 proved to be the tipping point with an attack at the largest city in the province, Ürümqi, that killed one person and injured 79 others and in Kunming that killed 31 people and injured 143. The government claimed that both incidents were instigated by Muslim groups from Xinjinag.

Now to be fair, terrorist groups have claimed responsibility for some of these acts in China and several Uyghur extremist groups have been labeled as terrorist organizations by both the US State Department and the UN. The US even detained some at China’s behest and held them at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba

It was intended for the camps and the treatment of the Uyghur people to be kept hidden from the world by the Chinese Communist Party but by 2018 it became common knowledge. The CCP has attempted to put a positive spin on the camps showing happy Uyghurs living there but survivors tell a different story, from torture to having their organs harvested.

What Is Happening?

As reported by several news outlets, including the Guardian, the New York Times and Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung, when someone crosses into China at the Erkeshtam border crossing in Kyrgyzstan electronic devices including phones and cameras have to be turned over to the authorities. The devices are taken into a separate room where iPhones are attached to a reader that scans them and Android devices have an app installed. Malware is installed and access to western media sources and social media is blocked. The devices are then returned at a later time. 

While the Erkeshtam border crossing is remote it is a popular point of entry for tourists as it follows the old Silk Road. It is unclear how long the information is retained and what is done with it by Chinese authorities as they are (to no one’s surprised) not forthcoming about it. This has already been done with Uyghurs in the region who have to pass through security checkpoints by providing their biometric data just to go about their daily lives

Done In The Name Of Stopping Terrorism

All of this is being done in the name of stopping terrorism. The CCP will of course claim that this has all been effective as no major attack has happened since and they claim that 13,000 terrorists have been arrested and thousands of weapons have been seized. Hundreds of thousands of illegal religious and other materials have also been confiscated. 

What has gone on in the camps have attracted widespread condemnation around the globe from nations to human rights groups but it has not stopped the Chinese. This of course begs the question of how much technology can help to stop terrorism and how much of our privacy are we willing to trade for so-called security. Here in the US we had the Patriot Act following 9-11, something that we still have parts of in effect today. 

We are at a point where our privacy online is tenuous. Multi-billion dollar companies harvest our data to be used or to be sold over and over and over again and there is little that we can do about it. While there would be a massive outcry should the government insist that we turn over our devices so that they can be scanned for terrorist threats it is being done by one of the most powerful and influential nations on the planet. When something works, others tend to copy it.

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