At some border crossings in China’s Xinjiang region, border agents have been installing spyware on some travelers’ phones.
The Xinjiang region is an area that is notorious for conducting intensive surveillance of the largely Muslim ethnic minority groups who live there. Earlier this year, the New York Times released a report detailing the Chinese government’s oppressive program of surveillance in Xinjiang.
Now, according to various reports by a group of publications, including The Guardian, Motherboard, and more, border agents in the region have been requiring tourists to hand over their phones and passcodes. The agents will then disappear with the phones to snoop through them. For iPhones, that reportedly includes plugging them into a machine that scans through the phone’s contents. For Android phones, it goes further, with border agents installing a spyware app that scans the phone and collects data.
The spyware, named BXAQ or Fēng cǎi, combs through text messages, photos, calendar events, contacts, call history, usernames, and lists of third-party apps before uploading this data to a remote server. The app also scans the phone for more than 73,000 files. Some of that includes extremist content, like an ISIS publication, but it also includes Quran excerpts and music from a Japanese metal band.
Once inspection of the phone is finished, the app is meant to be deleted. However, on some occasions, border agents have forgotten, leading to the apps discovery.