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Chinese Police Are Buying Spyware — And Posting Their Purchase Orders Online

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Breaking News. Image: GoodManPL (Pixabay).

It is an open secret that Chinese authorities are spying on citizens’ online and mobile communication. Yet it is still eye-popping to see hard evidence of this practice.

On January 7, Beijing news outlet Beijing Times published a surveillance software purchase order, reportedly made by a local police department, on Weibo. Netizens now can see exactly what surveillance tools police are using, and exactly how much they paid for them.

Beijing Times found the purchase order on the website of the Wenzhou district police department, took a screen capture of the order, and posted it on social media with a brief explanation of its origins. The purchase order includes two items: software for injecting trojans onto mobile phones, and a trojan for spying on mobile phone conversations, text messages, and image messages on Android and for jail breaking an iPhone. The first item cost RMB 100,000 yuan (approximately US $16,000) and the second item costed RMB 4,900 yuan (approximately US $800).

As the news spread, the purchase order page was removed from the police department website. But netizens started digging into other local government websites’ purchase order pages. Twitter user @bedaijin found two other local governments spending tax player money on surveillance of social media and channelling public opinion.

The item purchased by the Tianjin government is a software tool that collects messages from overseas social media including Twitter, Facebook and Google plus. Authorities in Taian city purchased data collection software and content posting software intended to help “counter public opinion” on nine major social media platforms, both in China and overseas.

By doing a simple search on file type and using search terms “Twitter”, “information”, and “purchase”, @beidaijin found that at least a dozen other local governments have also purchased social media surveillance software.

Read more: globalvoicesonline.orgWritten by Oiwan Lam

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