Xinjiang is considered to be China’s largest province with a total of 19 million residents. It is inhabited by Muslim Uighur minority that speak Turkic and form roughly 8 million of its population. The Uighur minority have always complained about severe discrimination by the Chinese government and today Chinese authorities have taken a step further to marginalise the people of Xinjiang as they have been forced to install a spyware application on their mobile devices allegedly to track down terrorists.
In Tianshan District of Urumqi City, mobile users received notification alert from their district authorities to install an application called “Jingwang”, means “Web Cleansing”, which is a surveillance software program or better yet, a spyware in order to “prevent [them] from accessing terrorist information,” as the message said. Furthermore, the police stated that the spyware will also be used to track down any sources that distribute illegal religious or any potentially harmful content, such as: documents, videos, images or e-books. According to the official website of Jinwang:
“Jingwang is a protection service with an adult and child categorization system introduced by Jiangsu Telecom. The main function is to block pornographic websites, online scams, trojan horses, and phishing sites; to alert users of how much time they spend online; and to enable remote control of one’s home network. The tool is intended to help kids develop a healthy lifestyle by building a safe web filter for the minors.”
Even though authorities in China claim that the Jingwang spyware is merely to combat terrorism in China, they could be using it for more than just counter terrorism. According to reports by Radio Free Asia, 10 women Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture who had the spyware installed on their mobiles from were put under arrest for some messages they shared on a WeChat private group.
The idea to forcibly install a spyware program on Chinese citizens’ mobile phones synchronises with the government’s recent sinister censorship policies. Most news revolve around major provinces and cities in China, however, there is almost a total eclipse of news about censorship in remote regions, such as: Xinjiang and Tibet. A famous news media Twitter account called “Images from mainland China” posted images on Twitter of the police while they were randomly stopping residents to check if they installed the spyware app or not. They posted the following statement on Twitter:
“Authorities from Xinjiang are checking to make sure that people are using the official Jingwang application. A mobile notification demanded people install the app within 10 days. If they are caught at a checkpoint and their devices do not have the software, they could be detained for 10 days. This is a setback on the development of technology. They forced people to use devices designed for the elderly. It is a form of confinement by through surveillance technology. We are back to Mao’s China.”
While the very famous human rights foundation, Freedom House shed some light on this unprecedented surveillance stance taken by the Chinese government against its citizens in an official statement:
“In Xinjiang, authorities in a district of the regional capital Urumqi issued a notice on June 27 instructing all residents and business owners to submit their “personal ID cards, cell phones, external drives, portable hard drives, notebook computers, and media storage cards” to the local police post for “registration and scanning” by August 1.[…] The goal is ostensibly to identify and purge any “terrorist videos,” but the action violates the privacy rights of Urumqi’s three million residents and exposes them to punishment for a host of other possible offenses, including those related to peaceful religious or political expression.”