Posts Tagged ‘surveillance’

Chinese thought police in constant surveillance of Xinjiang’s minority Muslim Uighurs — Then detention, Mandarin, law, ethnic unity, de-radicalization, patriotism

December 17, 2017

The Associated Press

KORLA, China (AP) — Nobody knows what happened to the Uighur student after he returned to China from Egypt and was taken away by police.

Not his village neighbors in China’s far west, who haven’t seen him in months. Not his former classmates, who fear Chinese authorities beat him to death.

Not his mother, who lives in a two-story house at the far end of a country road, alone behind walls bleached by the desert sun. She opened the door one afternoon for an unexpected visit by Associated Press reporters, who showed her a picture of a handsome young man posing in a park, one arm in the wind.

“Yes, that’s him,” she said as tears began streaming down her face. “This is the first time I’ve heard anything of him in seven months. What happened?”

“Is he dead or alive?”

The student’s friends think he joined the thousands — possibly tens of thousands — of people, rights groups and academics estimate, who have been spirited without trial into secretive detention camps for alleged political crimes that range from having extremist thoughts to merely traveling or studying abroad. The mass disappearances, beginning the past year, are part of a sweeping effort by Chinese authorities to use detentions and data-driven surveillance to impose a digital police state in the region of Xinjiang and over its Uighurs, a 10-million strong, Turkic-speaking Muslim minority that China says has been influenced by Islamic extremism.

Along with the detention camps, unprecedented levels of police blanket Xinjiang’s streets. Cutting-edge digital surveillance systems track where Uighurs go, what they read, who they talk to and what they say. And under an opaque system that treats practically all Uighurs as potential terror suspects, Uighurs who contact family abroad risk questioning or detention.

The campaign has been led by Chen Quanguo, a Chinese Communist Party official, who was promoted in 2016 to head Xinjiang after subduing another restive region — Tibet. Chen vowed to hunt down Uighur separatists blamed for attacks that have left hundreds dead, saying authorities would “bury terrorists in the ocean of the people’s war and make them tremble.”

Through rare interviews with Uighurs who recently left China, a review of government procurement contracts and unreported documents, and a trip through southern Xinjiang, the AP pieced together a picture of Chen’s war that’s ostensibly rooting out terror — but instead instilling fear.

Most of the more than a dozen Uighurs interviewed for this story spoke on condition of anonymity for fear that Chinese authorities would punish them or their family members. The AP is withholding the student’s name and other personal information to protect people who fear government retribution.

Chen and the Xinjiang regional government did not respond to repeated requests for comment. But China’s government describes its Xinjiang security policy as a “strike hard” campaign that’s necessary following a series of attacks in 2013 and 2014, including a mass knifing in a train station that killed 33. A Hotan city propaganda official, Bao Changhui, told the AP: “If we don’t do this, it will be like several years ago — hundreds will die.”

China also says the crackdown is only half the picture. It points to decades of heavy economic investment and cultural assimilation programs and measures like preferential college admissions for Uighurs.

Officials say the security is needed now more than ever because Uighur militants have been fighting alongside Islamic extremists in Syria. But Uighur activists and international human rights groups argue that repressive measures are playing into the hands of the likes of al-Qaida, which has put out Uighur-language recruiting videos condemning Chinese oppression.

“So much hate and desire for revenge are building up,” said Rukiye Turdush, a Uighur activist in Canada. “How does terrorism spread? When people have nowhere to run.”



The government has referred to its detention program as “vocational training,” but its main purpose appears to be indoctrination. A memo published online by the Xinjiang human resources office described cities, including Korla, beginning “free, completely closed-off, militarized” training sessions in March that last anywhere from 3 months to 2 years.

Uighurs study “Mandarin, law, ethnic unity, de-radicalization, patriotism” and abide by the “five togethers” — live, do drills, study, eat and sleep together.

In a rare state media report about the centers, a provincial newspaper quoted a farmer who said after weeks of studying inside he could spot the telltale signs of religious extremism by how a person dressed or behaved and also profess the Communist Party’s good deeds. An instructor touted their “gentle, attentive” teaching methods and likened the centers to a boarding school dorm.

But in Korla, the institutions appeared more daunting, at least from the outside. The city had three or four well-known centers with several thousand students combined, said a 48-year-old local resident from the Han ethnic majority. One center the AP visited was, in fact, labeled a jail. Another was downtown on a street sealed off by rifle-toting police. A third center, the local Han resident said, was situated on a nearby military base.

While forced indoctrination has been reported throughout Xinjiang, its reach has been felt far beyond China’s borders.

In April, calls began trickling into a Uighur teacher’s academy in Egypt, vague but insistent. Uighur parents from a few towns were pleading with their sons and daughters to return to China, but they wouldn’t say why.

“The parents kept calling, crying on the phone,” the teacher said.

Chinese authorities had extended the scope of the program to Uighur students abroad. And Egypt, once a sanctuary for Uighurs to study Islam, began deporting scores of Uighurs to China.

Sitting in a restaurant outside Istanbul where many students had fled, four recounted days of panic as they hid from Egyptian and Chinese authorities. One jumped out a window running from police. Another slept in a car for a week. Many hid with Egyptian friends.

“We were mice, and the police were cats,” said a student from Urumqi, Xinjiang’s regional capital.

All who returned were intensely grilled about what they did in Egypt and viewed as potential terror suspects, the students said. Many were believed held in the new indoctrination camps, while some were sentenced to longer prison sentences.

The young man from Korla rarely went out in the two years he spent studying Islam in Egypt. He played some soccer — a beloved sport among Uighurs — but wasn’t particularly athletic or popular.

Instead, he kept to himself in an apartment that he kept fastidiously clean, steeped in his studies at the revered Al Azhar University, the 1,000-year-old seat of learning in Sunni Islam. He freely discussed Quranic verses with his Uighur friends but mostly avoided politics, one friend said. He spoke of one day pursuing a Ph.D. in comparative religion.

“He had big dreams,” said the friend who is now hiding in Turkey to avoid being sent to China. “He wanted to be a religious scholar, which he knew was impossible in China, but he also wanted to stay close to his mother in Korla.”

He was fluent in Arabic and but also in Chinese. When they huddled around a smartphone to watch a Taiwanese tear-jerker about a boy separated from his mother, he would be the one weeping first.

When homesickness got to him, he would tell his friends about how his mother doted on him, and about Korla and the big house he grew up in. And when he gets married, God willing, he would say, he’d start a family in that house, too.

“If my wife doesn’t agree, then we don’t marry,” he declared.

He returned to China when he was called back in 2016 and taken away in February, according to three students and a teacher from Cairo. They say they heard from reliable sources in China — but cannot prove — that he died in detention.



Southern Xinjiang, the vast desert basin from where many of the students came, is one of the most heavily policed places on earth.

Deep in the desert’s southern rim, the oasis town of Hotan is a microcosm of how Chen, the Xinjiang party boss, has combined fearsome optics with invisible policing.

He has ordered police depots with flashing lights and foot patrols be built every 500 meters (yards)— a total of 1,130, according to the Hotan government. The AP saw cavalcades of more than 40 armored vehicles including full personnel carriers rumble down city boulevards. Police checkpoints on every other block stop cars to check identification and smartphones for religious content.

Shopkeepers in the thronging bazaar don mandatory armored vests and helmets to sell hand-pulled noodles, tailored suits and baby clothes.

Xinjiang’s published budget data from January to August shows public security spending this year is on track to increase 50 percent from 2016 to roughly 45 billion yuan ($6.8 billion) after rising 40 percent a year ago. It’s quadrupled since 2009, a watershed year when a Uighur riot broke out in Xinjiang, leaving nearly 200 members of China’s Han ethnic majority dead, and security began to ratchet up.

Adrian Zenz, a researcher at the European School of Culture and Theology who tracks Chinese public security staffing levels based on its recruiting ads, says Xinjiang is now hiring 40 times more police per capita than populous Guangdong Province.

“Xinjiang has very likely exceeded the level of police density seen in East Germany just before its collapse,” Zenz said. “What we’ve seen in the last 12 to 14 months is unprecedented.”

But much of the policing goes unseen.

To enter the Hotan bazaar, shoppers first pass through metal detectors and then place their national identification cards on a reader while having their face scanned.

The facial scanner is made by China Electronics Technology Group (CETC), a state-owned defense contractor that has spearheaded China’s fast-growing field of predictive policing with Xinjiang as its test bed. The AP found 27 CETC bids for Xinjiang government contracts, including one soliciting a facial recognition system for facilities and centers in Hotan Prefecture.

Hours after visiting the Hotan bazaar, AP reporters were stopped outside a hotel by a police officer who said the public security bureau had been remotely tracking the reporters’ movements.

“There are tens of thousands of cameras here,” said the officer, who gave his name as Tushan. “The moment you took your first step in this city, we knew.”

The government’s tracking efforts have extended to vehicles, genes, and even voices. In February, authorities in Xinjiang’s Bayingol prefecture, which includes Korla, required every car to install GPS trackers for real-time monitoring. And since late last year, Xinjiang authorities have required health checks to collect the population’s DNA samples. In May, a regional police official told the AP that Xinjiang had purchased $8.7 million in DNA scanners — enough to analyze several million samples a year.

In one year, Kashgar Prefecture, which has a population of 4 million, has carried out mandatory checks for practically its entire population, said Yang Yanfeng, deputy director of Kashgar’s propaganda department. She characterized the checkups as a public health success story, not a security measure.

“We take comprehensive blood tests for the good of the people, not just record somebody’s height and weight,” Yang said. “We find out health issues in citizens even they didn’t know about.”

A biometric data collection program appears to have been formalized last year under “Document No. 44,” a regional public security directive to “comprehensively collect three-dimensional portraits, voiceprints, DNA and fingerprints.” The document’s full text remains secret, but the AP found at least three contracts referring to the 2016 directive in recent purchase orders for equipment such as microphones and voice analyzers.

Meiya Pico, a security and surveillance company, has won 11 bids in the last six months alone from local Xinjiang jurisdictions. It won a joint bid with a DNA analysis company for 4 million yuan ($600,000) in Kargilik and has sold software that automatically scans smartphones for “terror-related pictures and videos” to Yarkent.

Meiya and CETC declined comment.



To monitor Xinjiang’s population, China has also turned to a familiar low-tech tactic: recruiting the masses.

When a Uighur businessman from Kashgar completed a six-month journey to flee China and landed in the United States with his family in January, he was initially ecstatic. He tried calling home, something he hadn’t done in months to spare his family unwanted police questioning.

His mother told him his four brothers and his father were in prison because he fled China. She was spared only because she was frail.

Since 2016, local authorities had assigned ten families including theirs to spy on one another in a new system of collective monitoring, and those families had also been punished because he escaped. Members from each were sent to re-education centers for three months, he told the AP.

“It’s worse than prison,” he said. “At least in prison you know what’s happening to you. But there you never know when you get accused. It could be anytime.”

A document obtained by U.S.-based activists and reviewed by the AP show Uighur residents in the Hebei Road West neighborhood in Urumqi, the regional capital, being graded on a 100-point scale. Those of Uighur ethnicity are automatically docked 10 points. Being aged between 15 and 55, praying daily, or having a religious education, all result in 10 point deductions.

In the final columns, each Uighur resident’s score is tabulated and checked “trusted,” ″ordinary,” or “not trusted.” Activists say they anecdotally hear about Uighurs with low scores being sent to indoctrination.

At the neighborhood police office, a woman who gave her surname as Tao confirmed that every community committee in Urumqi, not just Hebei Road West, needed to conduct similar assessments. She said there were no statistics on how many residents had been deemed “not trusted,” nor were there official procedures to deal with them.

“What is happening is every single Uighur is being considered a suspect of not just terrorism but also political disloyalty,” said Maya Wang, a researcher at Human Rights Watch who is studying how Chinese police are using technology to track political dissidents as well as Uighurs.

This month, Xinjiang announced it would require every government employee in the region to move into a Uighur home for a week to teach families about ideology and avoiding extremism.

What pains most, Uighurs abroad say, is the self-imposed barrier of silence that separates them from loved ones, making efforts to say happy birthday or find out whether a relative is detained risky.

When Salih Hudayar, an American Uighur graduate student, last called his 70-something grandfather this summer, he spoke in cryptic but reassuring tones.

“Our phones will not work anymore,” his grandfather said. “So, don’t try calling and don’t worry about us. We’ll be fine as long as you’re all fine.”

He later heard from a cousin in Kyrgyzstan that his grandfather had been sent to re-education.

A Uighur student who moved to Washington following the crackdown this summer said that after his move, his wife, a government worker still in Urumqi, messaged to say the police would show up at her home in 20 minutes. She had to say goodbye: after that she would delete him permanently from her contacts list.

A month later he received calls on WhatsApp from a man who introduced himself as Ekber, a Uighur official from the international cooperation office of the Xinjiang regional public security bureau, who wanted him to work for them in the U.S. — and warned him against saying no.

“If you’re not working for us then you’re working for someone else. That’s not a road you want to take,” he snapped.

A week after that, he couldn’t help himself placing one last call home. His daughter picked up.

“Mom is sick but she doesn’t want me to speak to you. Goodbye,” she said.



For the past year, Chen’s war has meant mass detentions, splintered families, lives consumed by uncertainty. It has meant that a mother sometimes can’t get an answer a simple question about her son: is he dead or alive?

A short drive from Korla, beyond peach plantations that stretch for miles, the al-Azhar student’s mother still lives in the big house that he loved. When the AP arrived unannounced, she said she had not received any court notices or reasons about why her son and his father were suddenly taken months earlier. She declined an interview.

“I want to talk, I want to know,” she said through a translator. “But I’m too afraid.”

AP reporters were later detained by police, interrogated for 11 hours, and accused of “illegal reporting” in the area without seeking prior permission from the Korla government.

“The subjects you’re writing about do not promote positive energy,” a local propaganda official explained.

Five villagers said they knew authorities had taken away the young student; one said he was definitely alive, the others weren’t sure.

When asked, local police denied he existed at all.,-thought-police-instill-fear



North Korea allows smartphones in ‘Orwellian’ move to monitor citizens and bolster power

December 7, 2017
NORTH Korea has allowed more access to smartphones in an “innovative Orwellian move” to “keep tabs” on the population and bolster the regime’s powers, it has been revealed.


Mobile phones are becoming commonplace in North Korea and are seen as status symbols.

But, access to the internet is limited and people are being employed by the regime to monitor people round the clock.

Director of strategic threat development at Recorded Future, Priscilla Moriuchi, said: “In an Orwellian sense, North Korea is innovating on surveillance.”

Nearly all North Korean phones, tablets, laptops and computers run on locally developed operating systems stocked with censorship and surveillance tools.


Mobile phones are becoming commonplace in North Korea and are seen as status symbolsInternet from the outside world is cut off, according to researchers and groups that work with defectors.

Computers either run a system called Red Star or a localised version of Microsoft Windows whereas smartphones and tablets run on localised versions of Android.

The operating systems direct users to curated intranet loaded with Kim Jong-un speeches and recipes to North Korean dishes.

Ms Moriuchi added that by mandating that certain technologies be installed on mobile devices, North Korea could be “establishing a playbook for other authoritarian regimes”.

The Red Star system and the preloaded surveillance software allow Pyongyang to monitor behaviour, according to German researcher Florian Grunow.

Authorities can use the software to remotely delete files from a computer and can block users sharing files, according to Ms Grunow.

A tool called TraceViewer records app usage and intranet browsing history.

The software takes random screenshots which users can see but cannot delete.

Phone usage is monitored and smartphone users face random stops by police, who check their phones’ contents, according to defectors.

North Korea’s intranet first became widely available in the early 2000s.

But, in 2004 a suspected assassination attempt on then-leader Kim Jong Il, allegedly triggered by a wireless handset, led to a five-year ban on mobile phones.

The regime began allowing the devices again in 2009.

Some experts attribute the concession to Pyongyang’s desire to endear the government to local citizens.

A researcher at Amnesty International, Arnold Fang said: “North Koreans aren’t completely oblivious to the outside world.


A tool called TraceViewer records app usage and intranet browsing history“In order to keep people happy, the North Korean government needs to show they are living a life of quality that is comparable to neighbouring countries.”

Early devices allowed some defectors to smuggle TV dramas from South Korea or elsewhere, but newer devices with tighter monitoring have made it more difficult to get access to foreign media, according to defectors.

An extremely small number of the North Korean elite have access to the external internet, according to Ms Moriuchi.

They are mainly researchers, government officials and party members whose jobs require information from the outside world.


An extremely small number of North Korean elite have access to external internetThe elites gain access via a connection ultimately run by China Unicom, operational since 2010.

But, according to North Korea-focused blog 38 North, there is a second internet connection provided by a Russian state-owned company, TransTeleCom.

Pyongyang’s traditional tools of power, such as propaganda and ruling by terror, are beginning to diminish in effectiveness, former North Korean diplomat Thae Yong Ho said.

But some experts said they doubt smartphones and online activity will do anything but strengthen the regime.

Head of intelligence research at Cybereason, a cybersecurity firm, and a former U.S. Department of Defence analyst, Ross Rustici, said: “As long as North Koreans primarily consume the propaganda from the state, I don’t see it having a short-term destabilising effect.”

China’s Tech Giants Have a Second Job: Helping Beijing Spy on Its People

December 1, 2017

Tencent and Alibaba are among the firms that assist authorities in hunting down criminal suspects, silencing dissent and creating surveillance cities

HANGZHOU, China—Alibaba Group’s sprawling campus has collegial workspaces, laid-back coffee bars and, on the landscaped grounds, a police outpost.

Employees use the office to report suspected crimes to the police, according to people familiar with the operation. Police also use it to request data from Alibaba for their own investigations, these people said, tapping into the trove of information the tech giant collects through its e-commerce and financial-payment networks.

In one case, the police wanted to find out who had posted content related to terrorism, said a former Alibaba employee. “They came to me and asked me for the user ID and information,” he recalled. He turned it over.


Richard B. Levine/ZUMA PRESS

The Chinese government is building one of the world’s most sophisticated, high-tech systems to keep watch over its citizens, including surveillance cameras, facial-recognition technology and vast computers systems that comb through terabytes of data. Central to its efforts are the country’s biggest technology companies, which are openly acting as the government’s eyes and ears in cyberspace.

Companies including Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. , Tencent Holdings Ltd. and Baidu Inc., are required to help China’s government hunt down criminal suspects and silence political dissent. Their technology is also being used to create cities wired for surveillance.

This assistance is far more extensive than the help Western companies extend to their governments, and the requests are almost impossible to challenge, a Wall Street Journal examination of Chinese practices shows.

Companies including Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. , Tencent Holdings Ltd. and Baidu Inc., are required to help China’s government hunt down criminal suspects and silence political dissent. Their technology is also being used to create cities wired for surveillance.

This assistance is far more extensive than the help Western companies extend to their governments, and the requests are almost impossible to challenge, a Wall Street Journal examination of Chinese practices shows.

Unlike American companies, which often resist U.S. government requests for information, Chinese ones talk openly about working with authorities. Tencent Chief Executive Ma Huateng, also known as Pony Ma, and Alibaba founder Jack Ma both have voiced support for private companies working with the government on law enforcement and security issues.

“The political and legal system of the future is inseparable from the internet, inseparable from big data,” Alibaba’s Mr. Ma told a Communist Party commission overseeing law enforcement last year. He said technology will soon make it possible to predict security threats. “Bad guys won’t even be able to walk into the square,” he said.

In practice, China’s internet giants, which have benefited from trade policies shielding them from foreign competition, have little choice but to cooperate in a country where the Communist Party controls both the legal system and the right to function as a business.

Tencent, the world’s largest online videogame company, dominates Chinese cyberspace with news, video-streaming operations and its WeChat app, used by nearly one billion people to communicate and for mobile payments.

Beijing activist Hu Jia said he bought a slingshot online after a friend recommended it for relieving stress. He paid with WeChat’s mobile-payment feature. Mr. Hu said he was later interrogated by a state security agent, who asked if he was planning to shoot out surveillance cameras near his apartment.

Beijing activist Hu Jia, on left in 2013, says ‘everyone has a spy watching them. That spy is their smartphone.’Photo: Kim Kyung Hoon/REUTERS

A few years earlier, Mr. Hu said, he had messaged a friend headed to Taiwan with the names of activists he might want to see while traveling there. Later, he said, state security agents showed up at the friend’s house and warned him against meeting Mr. Hu’s acquaintances.

“Experience has proven that WeChat is completely compromised,” especially for people on the government’s watch list, Mr. Hu said. “Everyone has a spy watching them. That spy is their smartphone.”

Neither Tencent nor Chinese security officials responded to requests for comment.

Xu Bing describes how he created a fictional film by piecing together footage taken from ubiquitous surveillance cameras recording the daily lives of Chinese citizens. Photo: Xu Bing Studio

When discussing their cooperation with the government, Chinese companies point to disclosures by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, which detailed how U.S. tech and telecommunications companies granted U.S. government agencies access to user data. Earlier, many American phone companies had complied with a secret National Security Agency program to intercept the communications of some U.S. citizens without a court warrant.

U.S. government requests for information about U.S. citizens or legal residents now have to be approved by a court. Chinese police, by contrast, can rely on a search warrant issued by the police themselves.

“I would disagree with the premise that the central government has access to all this corporate data. That’s just not true,” said Joseph Tsai, Alibaba’s executive vice chairman, at the Journal’s D.Live conference in October. “If they want data from you, just like in the U.S., they have to have a reason.”

Alibaba and other tech companies push back if they believe a Chinese government request for data isn’t warranted, said a Chinese police official familiar with the operations of the country’s cyberpolice. He said law enforcement must follow set procedures to gain access to private information.

China’s government, however, has the last word. There is no independent judiciary to approve or review government requests—or for companies to appeal to if they disagree with a demand.

It is unlikely any Chinese company could mount the sort of challenge Apple Inc. did when it refused to comply with a request by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation to unlock the iPhone of a suspect in the San Bernardino mass shooting in 2015.

‘The political and legal system of the future is inseparable from the internet, inseparable from big data.’

—Jack Ma, founder, Alibaba Group

Over the past year, Chinese regulators have ordered three popular internet platforms to stop streaming videos with political content not in line with government policy, and they more recently warned that companies that didn’t comply with new social-media rules would be shut down. Facebook Inc. was banned in China in 2009, without a stated reason.

On June 1, a new cybersecurity law went into effect that requires companies running internet platforms in China to help authorities ferret out content that “endangers national security, national honor and interests.”

That goes far beyond U.S. government demands on internet service providers or platforms, which are required by law to report suspected instances of child pornography when they discover it and take down material that has been found to infringe on copyrights.

Chinese government authorities didn’t respond to requests for comment for this article.

In one of the first significant actions under the new law, China’s Cyberspace Administration this fall slapped maximum fines on Tencent, internet company Baidu and others for allowing users to spread banned content, including “false rumors” and pornography.

Tencent said it “sincerely accepted” the punishment and vowed to do a better job. Baidu outlined a plan to use big data and artificial intelligence to better identify and dispel rumors. A Baidu spokeswoman said the new platform was developed in collaboration with police and other public and private agencies, and was designed to ensure users get accurate information.

‘I would disagree with the premise that the central government has access to all this corporate data.’

—Joseph Tsai, executive vice chairman, Alibaba


Alibaba has data on hundreds of millions of Chinese citizens who use the company and its affiliated services to shop online, stream videos, pay rent, send text messages, make comments on social media and more.

The job of monitoring traffic on these platforms falls to its Alibaba Security Team, whose Chinese name—Shendun—can be translated as “Magic Shield.”

At the company’s Hangzhou campus, computer programs sweep Alibaba’s internet commerce sites and flag anything that might be prohibited, such as guns and pornography, according to current and former Magic Shield agents.

The security team scans the websites for suspicious sales, one former staffer said, such as tea being sold for an exorbitant price, an indication it might really be illegal drugs. Agents then review and remove objectionable content, and in cases of scams such as monetary fraud, will alert the police, the current and former agents said.

Image may contain: text

In a video published on the team’s Twitter-like Weibo site, the Magic Shield team is shown working at computer screens. “Guns, rubber bullets, drugs,” the narrator says. “As long as it’s illegal, it will not escape our control.”

The team has assisted police in “several thousand cases,” the video says. The team also is called in to help police with criminal investigations, people familiar with the operations say.

Plans to set up police outposts at tech companies were disclosed in a 2015 posting on China’s Ministry of Public Security website, which said the intent was to “find out about criminal activity at its first instance.”

An Alibaba spokeswoman said the company’s campus includes “a designated meeting space where law-enforcement staff visit occasionally to communicate the latest updates on regulation. If there are established criminal cases, our team will also use this space to discuss the extent of our assistance in those investigations as required by law. There are no police officers stationed on our campus.”

Unlike their Chinese counterparts, U.S. tech companies, including Apple, Facebook and Alphabet Inc.’s Google, routinely disclose their government cooperation in transparency reports.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, front, was applauded by Chinese and American technology CEOs and other executives at Microsoft Corp.’s campus in Redmund, Wash., in 2015. Photo: Ted S. Warren/Press Pool/Getty Images

Google, whose services are mostly blocked in China, said there were 23 Chinese government requests for Google to remove content in the second half of 2016, mostly for national security reasons.

Apple disclosed that more than 35,000 user accounts were affected by 24 Chinese law-enforcement requests in the first half of this year, many in connection with fraud investigations. It said it provided information on about 90% of them.

Chinese companies don’t release any information on the number of requests from the government, the nature of the requests or the compliance rate.

Tencent’s online monitoring operations use computers to filter its streamed videos, news feeds and other online platforms for obscene and politically sensitive content, according to people familiar with the operation.

Self-Policing the Internet

Chinese and U.S. internet platforms face different government standards for policing content.


–U.S.: Responsible for reporting child pornography
–China: Must be removed and reported. Liable for hosting content.


–U.S.: May voluntarily remove, but no legal responsibility to report.
–China: Must be removed and reported. Liable for hosting content.


–U.S.: Online gambling is mostly illegal. Should not accept online gambling ads and must not host, promote or support gambling activities.
–China: Must be removed and reported. Liable for hosting content.


–U.S.: Acquiring or leaking state secrets is prohibited, but re-publication of such material is protected by First Amendment. May voluntarily remove.
–China: Must be removed and reported. Liable for hosting content.


–U.S.: No legal responsibility to report.
–China: Must be removed and reported. Liable for hosting content.

Sources: Stanford Law School, Baker McKenzie

Censors at Chinese companies are responsible for blocking unfavorable references to the Communist Party and senior leaders, as well as foreign news stories casting China in a negative light. Computers are programed to spot thousands of words and phrases and delete most of the offensive content, according to the people familiar with the censorship operations.

Users of Tencent’s WeChat app who run large group chats say they have received automated warnings about politically sensitive content. Some political activists say their WeChat accounts have been suspended or closed for posts critical of the government.

During important political events, staffers with China’s internet regulator set up shop at Chinese content providers to catch anything that might slip through the cracks, people familiar with the operations said. The regulator, the Cyberspace Administration of China, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Along with access to online data, China’s government wants something else from tech companies—the cloud computing prowess to sort and analyze information. China wants to crunch data from surveillance cameras, smartphones, government databases and other sources to create so-called smart cities and safe cities.

Alibaba’s computers and artificial-intelligence algorithms power a “city brain” in Hangzhou that improves traffic flow and clears the path for ambulances by using mobile mapping and data from traffic cameras to time traffic signals. The company said its cloud and data services also have helped manage aircraft parking in Guangzhou and deploy tour guides in Wuhan.

Chinese President Xi Jinping appeared on a screen during the annual World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, China, in 2016.Photo: Aly Song/REUTERS

The township of Wuzhen hosts an annual internet conference attended by political and technology leaders. Chinese citizens with grievances show up, too, hoping to get their attention. Police now work with Alibaba to use surveillance footage and data processing to identify “persons of interest” and keep them out, local police official Dai Jinming said at a recent conference sponsored by Alibaba.

Inside China’s Surveillance State

–Surveillance Cameras Made by China Are Hanging All Over the U.S.
–China’s All-Seeing Surveillance State Is Reading Its Citizens’ Faces
–Tencent is working with police in the southern city of Guangzhou to build a cloud-based “early-warning system” that can track and forecast the size and movement of crowds, according to a statement from the Guangzhou police bureau.

Maya Wang, a Hong Kong-based researcher for Human Rights Watch, contends the proclaimed benefits of such wired cities mask their true purpose. “This whole safe city idea is a massive surveillance project,” she said.

The government-sponsored Smart Cities Work Committee didn’t respond to a request for comment.

China’s latest five-year development plan calls for 100 smart-city trials to be rolled out next year.

By 2020, the plan says, smart cities will make up a “ubiquitous system” that is expected to “achieve remarkable results.”

— Xiao Xiao and Lingling Wei contributed to this article.


Surveillance Cameras Made by China Are Hanging All Over the U.S.

November 13, 2017

Company 42%-owned by the Chinese government sold devices that monitor U.S. Army base, Memphis streets, sparking concerns about cybersecurity

The Memphis police use the surveillance cameras to scan the streets for crime. The U.S. Army uses them to monitor a base in Missouri. Consumer models hang in homes and businesses across the country. At one point, the cameras kept watch on the U.S. embassy in Kabul.

All the devices were manufactured by a single company, Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology. It is 42%-owned by the Chinese government.

Hikvision (pronounced “hike-vision”) was nurtured by Beijing to help keep watch on its 1.4 billion citizens, part of a vast expansion of its domestic-surveillance apparatus. In the process, the little-known company has become the world’s largest maker of surveillance cameras. It has sold equipment used to track French airports, an Irish port and sites in Brazil and Iran.

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Hikvision’s rapid rise, its ties to the Chinese government and a cybersecurity lapse flagged by the Department of Homeland Security have fanned concerns among officials in the U.S. and Italy about the security of Hikvision’s devices.

“The fact that it’s at a U.S. military installation and was in a very sensitive U.S. embassy is stunning,” says Carolyn Bartholomew, chairwoman of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, which was created by Congress to monitor the national-security implications of trade with China. “We shouldn’t presume that there are benign intentions in the use of information-gathering technology that is funded directly or indirectly by the Chinese government.”

Some security vendors in the U.S. refuse to carry Hikvision cameras or place restrictions on their purchase, concerned they could be used by Beijing to spy on Americans. The General Services Administration, which oversees $66 billion of procurement for the U.S. government, has removed Hikvision from a list of automatically approved suppliers. In May, the Department of Homeland Security issued a cybersecurity warning saying some of Hikvision’s cameras contained a loophole making them easily exploitable by hackers. The department assigned its worst security rating to that vulnerability.

Hikvision’s heat-mapping technology can be used for crowd counting and data collection.Photo: Hikvision

The artificial-intelligence camera uses facial and behavior-recognition technology.Photo: Hikvision

The concerns about Hikvision are reminiscent of the controversy surrounding Chinese technology giant Huawei Technologies Corp., whose telecom gear was effectively banned in the U.S. after a 2012 congressional report raised fears that its networking equipment could be used to spy on Americans. The company, founded by a former Chinese army engineer, has repeatedly dismissed such concerns.

Hikvision says its equipment is safe and secure, that it follows the law wherever it does business and that it worked with Homeland Security to patch the flaws the agency cited. It says it “cannot in any way access and control the content of the video cameras.” It says the vast majority of its products are sold through third-party vendors, meaning it often doesn’t even know where they wind up. It declined to comment on Ms. Bartholomew’s remarks.

“Hikvision is a business,” said Chief Executive Officer Hu Yangzhong, one of several Hikvision executives interviewed for this article. “It would be impossible for us to add a backdoor to our cameras, as that would damage our business.”

Once the stuff of science fiction, facial-scanning cameras are becoming a part of daily life in China, where they’re used for marketing, surveillance and social control. Video: Paolo Bosonin. Photo: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg

Vulnerabilities in surveillance cameras have become more of a concern as internet-connected devices become more prevalent. Cameras can be a weak link in an organization’s information-technology network, potentially opening “backdoors”—ways to gain access by bypassing security mechanisms—for hackers, including state-backed ones.

Last year, hackers took control of hundreds of thousands of cameras, including many made by a Chinese rival of Hikvision, to launch a huge “denial of service” attack that security experts said made sites run by Inc., PayPal Inc. and Twitter Inc. unavailable for hours.

Hikvision grew out of a government laboratory started a half-century ago to develop military and industrial technologies. Its largest shareholder is China Electronics Technology Group Corp., or CETC, a state-owned defense and military electronics manufacturer. Its biggest individual shareholder is Gong Hongjia, a Hong Kong billionaire and university classmate of top Hikvision executives. Some executives are Communist Party members also employed by subsidiaries of CETC, according to securities filings in China.

Mr. Gong said in an interview that he provided capital to help found Hikvision in 2001, in an arrangement that gave the government-backed lab a 51% stake. Although the size of that stake has since declined, the government only began to more actively aid the company in the past few years. “The government can’t help you sell in overseas markets,” Mr. Gong said. “That was all thanks to the years the company spent investing in expanding our presence.”

CETC didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Contracts from Chinese government agencies propelled the company’s rise. It helped with security at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. In 2011, the company said the value of contracts for its “safe city” camera project in Chongqing, a large city in China’s southwest, reached $1.2 billion. Its cameras are now ubiquitous on the city’s streets.

Hikvision helped with security at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Contracts from Chinese government agencies propelled the company’s rise.Photo: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

China’s President Xi Jinping, who has made high-tech security a priority, visited the firm’s headquarters in 2015. Since that year, Hikvision has received major loans from two of China’s three policy banks, which finance state development goals.

Zheng Yibo, a Hikvision vice president, says CETC has no role in Hikvision’s day-to-day operations. He declines to say how much revenue comes from the Chinese government, but says its “government-sales portion isn’t high.”

Hikvision’s head of research, Pu Shiliang, holds a leadership position at a Hangzhou laboratory run by the Ministry of Public Security, China’s police force. The lab explores ways authorities can leverage data gathered by the company’s cameras and other sources to improve policing, according to the lab’s website.

Chinese authorities are encouraging new surveillance projects in China to feature artificial-intelligence capabilities, Mr. Pu told an audience in Beijing in September. Scores of high-tech companies have emerged to address the government’s call for more innovative surveillance techniques.

China has been rolling out new technologies to monitor its people in ways that would unsettle many in the U.S. and the West. Unfettered by privacy concerns or public debate, Beijing’s authoritarian leaders have introduced facial-recognition technology and other surveillance measures in a vast experiment in social engineering. Their goal is to influence behavior and identify lawbreakers.

At Hikvision’s Hangzhou showroom, walls are lined with monitors and video cameras that employ artificial intelligence to recognize objects and sounds from afar and to produce visible images despite pollution or darkness. Hikvision’s “Darkfighter” thermal camera enables it to record under ultralow light conditions, the company says. Its “Blazer Pro” server, it says, allows license-plate recognition. It says its dome-shaped “bullet” cameras are explosion-proof, and it offers camera-equipped drones and cameras programmed to alert authorities to large gatherings.

The Darkfighter camera can turn dark into light. This split screen shows the illuminating effect.Photo: Hikvision

‘Defog’ cameras use algorithms to sift through atmospheric interference such as fog or pollution.Photo: HIKVISION

The company’s consumer camera line, called “EZVIZ,” can sync with a smartphone app. One softball-sized device can detect noises—a dog barking loudly or the sound of a door opening—and automatically direct its lens at the source of the disturbance, sending an alert to the phone.

Global sales of surveillance equipment has increased 55% in the five years through 2016, according to consulting firm IHS-Markit. By pricing cameras below those made by Western competitors, Hikvision has become the top seller of surveillance equipment in Europe and No. 2 in the U.S., according to IHS-Markit and other industry analysts. Its cameras frequently are sold without the Hikvision name and are rebranded by U.S. distributors—a frequent practice in the industry.

This year, Hikvision opened research-and-development offices in Silicon Valley and Montreal. It plans to employ 350 people in North America by year’s end and 800 by 2022, the company says.

Its shares have risen sharply since its initial public offering on Shenzhen’s stock exchange in 2010, and they have more than doubled this year, giving the company a valuation of $56 billion, close to that of Sony Corp.

Fort Leonard Wood, an Army base in Missouri’s Ozarks, uses Hikvision cameras in its security system, according to the Chinese company and NexGen Integration, a U.S. company that handled the installations. The base offers basic combat training and includes a school for chemical, biological and nuclear-defense drills.

Fort Leonard Wood, a U.S. Army base in Missouri’s Ozarks, uses Hikvision cameras in its security system.Photo: Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

To win the contract with the Army, Hikvision says, it had to show its cameras could stream at 30 frames per second, providing sufficiently fast motion detection. It custom-built some of the technology to accommodate the base’s limited internet bandwidth.

Chris Nickelson, NexGen’s owner, says none of his customers have raised any issues about Hikvision gear. The army base referred questions to the U.S. Army’s installation management command public affairs office, which said it doesn’t discuss equipment or capabilities, but added that “any equipment or software that goes on a military network is thoroughly tested for security vulnerabilities.”

At the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, Hikvision cameras were installed “to monitor nonsensitive electrical closets for theft prevention,” says a State Department spokesperson, referring to closets housing electronics equipment.

Last year, the security-industry trade publication IPVM published a procurement order for several dozen Hikvision cameras, revealing their presence in the Kabul embassy. The government canceled the order in September 2016 and removed the Hikvision cameras already in the embassy.

A State Department official says that was because security officials at the department, who are supposed to be notified of new security-related installations, weren’t given a heads up about the purchase. The department wouldn’t comment on whether security concerns were a factor in the removal of the existing cameras.

In a written statement, Hikvision said it had no knowledge of the Kabul project’s particulars “on the end-user level,” and that “accepting or removing particular products is always at the discretion of the end-user.”

Surveillance equipment and other gear is on display at Hikvision’s office in Hangzhou.Photo: Xinhua/ZUMA PRESS

Shortly thereafter, the General Services Administration removed Hikvision from a list of automatically approved suppliers, companies that make their products in countries that have certain trade agreements with the U.S. The agency says it nixed the firm after it was alerted the products were manufactured and assembled in China, which isn’t on the list. U.S. government agencies that want to buy Hikvision gear can’t go through the GSA system, but have to take extra steps such as showing the items are fairly priced.

Hikvision says its gear was listed on the GSA by two resellers, which it says it hadn’t authorized. Hikvision says it asked the resellers to remove the products from the GSA list.

In January, Italy’s government awarded a $49 million contract to a supplier in a deal that included the installation of Hikvision cameras at some state buildings. The deal was publicly questioned in June by Italian legislator Arianna Spessotto, who said the cameras “could pose a risk to national public security” and asked how the government planned to verify the cameras’ safety.

A spokesman for Italy’s government procurement agency said the supplier “guaranteed a level of security appropriate to the risk,” but that “no one can be absolutely sure that a participating firm has not surreptitiously inserted backdoor devices and security vulnerabilities for malicious purposes.”

Hikvision says the Italian legislator’s concerns about security risk are “totally unfounded and absurd.”

Hikvision cameras are ubiquitous on the streets of Chongqing, a large city in China’s southwest.Photo: Prisma Bildagentur/UIG/Getty Images

Nathan Brubaker, an analyst at U.S. cybersecurity firm FireEye Inc., says the software vulnerabilities identified by the Department of Homeland Security could make those Hikvision cameras prone to a hacking attack similar to the “Mirai” denial-of-service attack on the internet last year.

“Camera security is often poor’’ across the industry, says Marco Herbst, chief executive of Dublin-based Evercam, which develops camera software. “You’re dealing with a device that in many cases is sloppily installed with default passwords that are publicly available on the internet.”

Security experts say backdoors that allow outsiders to bypass security protections are often difficult to identify. Such vulnerabilities can be accidental—the result of flaws in the software’s original design or in updates.

The Hikvision flaws identified by the Department of Homeland Security affected more than 200 camera models and potentially tens of millions of shipped devices, estimates John Honovich, editor of IPVM. They made it possible for outsiders to hack into internet-connected Hikvision cameras in just a few steps, according to Mr. Honovich and FireEye, the cybersecurity firm. Hikvision acknowledged the flaws affected some cameras, but dismisses Mr. Honovich’s assertions as “unfounded insinuations and hearsay.”

Hikvision says it cooperated with the DHS to fix the problem and directed customers to a software fix. “This issue did not cause a noticeable impact on Hikvision’s overseas business,” a company spokeswoman says.

Genetec, a Canadian security company with a U.S. presence, requires customers who want to buy Hikvision cameras to sign a waiver disclaiming Genetec of liability in the event of a security breach. Pierre Racz, the Montreal-based company’s chief executive officer, says concern over cameras made by “companies owned or controlled by the Chinese government” and “Beijing’s reputation for aggressive cyberespionage” led him to require the waiver.

Hikvision says “linking Hikvision with espionage is simply outrageous and completely unfounded.”

Surveillance cameras hung near Tiananmen Gate in Beijing in 2013.Photo: Ng Han Guan/Associated Press

Hikvision has been selling cameras to the Memphis police department since 2007. Lieutenant Joseph Patty II, who manages the system, says cameras became more essential after the police department lost 500 officers—about one-quarter of the force—because of budget cuts three years ago. Officers can observe streets from a central command center. Some devices use advanced lighting technology to produce clear images even in the middle of the night.

“We probably make up to 100 arrests every year” because of the cameras, including for car theft, robbery and murder, says Lt. Patty. The cameras have been used to monitor Black Lives Matter protests and recent demonstrations surrounding Memphis’ Confederate monuments, he says.

He says the city started using the cameras long before concerns about hacking came into play. The department uses a decentralized network where cameras aren’t connected to the police mainframe computer, he says.

“At the end of the day, they are the No. 1 camera manufacturer in the world,” says Lt. Patty. “They make a lot of cameras and many people use them, even if they don’t say Hikvision on the product.”

—Liza Lin and Wenxin Fan contributed to this article.

Write to Dan Strumpf at

China internet censorship: New crackdowns and rules are here to stay

October 28, 2017

Image may contain: 6 people, people sitting and indoor



Chinese President Xi Jinping delivered a message for the world during his opening speech at the 19th Communist Party Congress: China supports an open economy, and it will further liberalize its markets to foreign investors.

But while the leadership talks of financial liberalization, some facets of life inside the world’s second-largest economy are becoming a lot less free.

That’s especially true for digital communication inside China. Regulators have moved aggressively to curtail what the country’s more than 750 million internet users can or cannot do online. While Beijing has shut out access to Google and Facebook in the past, new restrictions introduced this year have been some of the strictest ever, according to experts.

This year, authorities have cracked down on China’s top video-streaming websites, doubled down on their crackdown of virtual private networks (VPNs), removed foreign TV shows from online platforms, required users to register to online forums with their real names and introduced laws that hold chat group admins accountable for what is said in their spaces.

New rules also require online news websites to be overseen by government-approved editorial staff and for workers to have reporting credentials from the central government.

Those limitations are likely here to stay, and may even grow, tech experts and china watchers told CNBC.

Circumvention intervention

Internet users in China have long relied on circumvention tools to access hundreds of websites that have been blocked by the country’s censorship apparatus.

Zahra, a student who has been living in the mainland for six years, had relied on VPNs to get past China’s infamous “Great Firewall” and connect to the outside world. It also allows users privacy by hiding browsing activities from internet service providers.

The 23-year-old medical student, who asked to be identified by only her first name, told CNBC that VPNs allowed her to access YouTube and numerous reference websites that were relevant to her coursework.

“It’s like being shut off from the world.”-Zahra, a medical student in China, who relies on VPN for her studies.

While Beijing allowed users some wiggle room in the past, commentators said pressure had been mounting on authorities to rein in China’s growing online space. Unlike the heavily regulated offline media in the country, the internet had allowed anyone to disseminate information and express critical opinions with little chance of punishment.

“The increasing pressure to gain control over online media is longstanding, reflecting Xi’s goal to treat online media in the same way as traditional media,” Paul Triolo, practice head for geo-technology at consultancy Eurasia Group, told CNBC.

As a result, authorities this year have aggressively targeted VPNs as part of what they characterized as an effort to clean up China’s domestic internet.

Though quite a few VPN services are still functioning on the mainland, a source told CNBC in July that some of the remaining companies could end up collaborating with the authorities and hand over user data when requested.

Zahra told CNBC that it has become harder in recent months to rely on VPNs to access banned websites from the mainland. Many of the services, she said, were either not working or the connections through them were very slow.

“It’s like being shut off from the world,” she said.

China’s new cybersecurity law leaves companies with uncertainty  

It’s not just VPNs, either. Authorities have also stepped up restrictions in other areas to control the online narrative surrounding the country’s national and political identity.

The moves from the Chinese government keep “surprising me (in not a good way) in terms of what else they can regulate, control and censor,” Lokman Tsui, an assistant professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told CNBC in an email. “Let’s also not forget that they push propaganda and misinformation actively.”

He even predicted that Beijing officials could begin “taking a more active role outside their borders. There have been signs of that: lobbying at the UN level, the kidnapping of the booksellers, the great cannon, etc.”

Reports have previously detailed the “Great Cannon” — a term coined by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab for a Chinese tool that can flood a website with traffic to overwhelm its servers and, as a result, force it offline.

For now, Tsui explained the current restrictions to control the domestic internet are on multiple levels that “push the Great Firewall even higher.”

On a technical level, he said, China is increasing disruptions to messaging services like WhatsApp or circumvention tools like VPN. Existing regulation such as real-name registration are being enforced more strictly and new laws are holding more platform stakeholders liable for online content, he said.

“Controls on new media are much stricter now than we have seen at any point since the dawn of the internet,” David Bandurski, co-director of the China Media Project and a fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin, told CNBC.

Since regulators have “effectively neutralized” the dissemination of any unwanted information in traditional media, “the real heart of controls is shifting to cyberspace,” he added.

Regulations vs. ‘special measures’

Beijing has often made headlines for restricting the flow of information online, but this time is fundamentally different, experts said.

Historically, authorities have tightened controls over the domestic internet in the lead up to the once-every-five-years Communist Party Congress. Even though the event drew to a close on Tuesday, regulators are unlikely to now roll back many of the tighter regulations, analysts said.

There are two kinds of restrictions used by the authorities.

First are the publicly announced moves introduced by regulatory bodies, explained Rogier Creemers, a researcher at Leiden University in the Netherlands. So-called special measures are the other kind of restriction. They are aimed at creating a stable online environment during a major event like the Party Congress, Creemers explained.

Companies themselves may seek to clamp down on their users ahead of such important national occasions, said Charlie Smith, the co-founder of China censorship monitor, who operates under a pseudonym. Such private sector measures include preventing certain videos from being shown or not letting users alter their profile pictures.

“These are moves being made to make sure that your users do not do anything stupid during the Congress,” Smith said. “These restrictions will be lifted as soon as the meeting is over.”

But Smith said the crackdown on circumvention tools like VPNs were likely to stay and the “current state of difficulty” that the Chinese encounter when trying to access the free internet is going to be the “new normal.”

Creemers concurred, telling CNBC that broader regulations were “likely here to stay.”

Eurasia Group’s Triolo added that Xi’s vision of cyber-sovereignty means that “China should be able to control and monitor all internet traffic that traverses China’s internet infrastructure.”

On top of all the external controls, Beijing is also considering taking a stake in some of China’s largest internet companies, according to the Wall Street Journal. Planting a flag in those firms would likely give the Chinese government a more absolute role in corporate decision-making.

Beijing’s 2017 crackdown

Jan. 22 – China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology says it will clean up the domestic internet by March 31, 2018.

May 2 – The Cyberspace Administration of China introduces new restrictions that require online news platforms to be managed by party-sanctioned editorial staff.

Jun. 1 – China’s new cybersecurity law goes into effect, which requires foreign businesses in the country to store crucial data on local servers. The move draws criticism due to vaguely defined terminology and worries over potential surveillance.

Jun. 22 – Beijing shuts down online video services of three Chinese media sites: Weibo, ACFUN and Previously, authorities shuttered 60 popular celebrity gossip social media accounts for not being in line with “core socialist values,” according to Reuters.

Jun. 29 – The Ministry of Culture shuts down 12 live-streaming mobile apps and hands out administrative punishments to another 20.

Jul. 10 – Beijing orders China MobileChina Telecom and China Unicom to bar the use of VPNs by Feb. 1, 2018, according to a report.

Jul. 18 – Reports say users experience difficulties sending and receiving photos on Facebook-owned WhatsApp messenger without a VPN.

Jul. 31 – iPhone-maker Apple pulls several VPN services from the local version of the App Store — the move is slammed by multiple VPN service providers online.

Sept. 4 – China bans streaming of dramatic video content that does not have government permits.

Sept. 7 – China issues new rules that require internet chat service providers to verify the identities of users and keep a log of group chats for no less than six months, according to Reuters. Those rules also require those who manage chat groups to monitor the online activity of their fellow forum members. The regulations also said that chat group service providers had to establish a credit scoring system.

Sept. 25 – Regulators fine tech giants BaiduWeibo and Tencent for failing to deal with pornography, violence and other banned content on their social-media platforms.

Oct. 1 – New rules require internet users to register their real names when using online forums. Authorities have attempted to push “real-name” registration before — users of social media platform Weibo and online portal Sohu have been asked register their identities in the past — but those initiatives were not as strictly implemented.

—Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that Lokman Tsui is a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Fact check: Philippine President Duterte’s claims on US and Chinese aid to military (Sounds like fentanyl talking)

October 23, 2017
One of the military first battalions to be deployed in the besieged southern city of Marawi board a military truck as they arrive to a hero’s welcome at Villamor Air Base Friday, Oct. 20, 2017, in Pasay city, southeast of Manila, Philippines. The military has begun to scale down their forces in Marawi after President Rodrigo Duterte declared its liberation following the killings of the militant leaders after five months of military offensive. AP/Bullit Marquez

MANILA, Philippines — Last Friday, President Rodrigo Duterte thanked the US, China and Israel for providing military assistance for the clearing operations in Marawi City.

In his speech before the 43rd Philippine Business Conference and Expo concluding ceremony, Duterte revealed that the sniper rifle that killed Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon was made in China.

Duterte said that the bulk of four planeloads of rifles that government troops used in war-torn Marawi came from China.

“It was only China who gave it on time and plenty,” Duterte said.

The president, meanwhile, said that the equipment provided by the US was only borrowed and were already returned.

“So I said, the countries helped us. China. We needed it badly, you gave it to us. Thank you very much and President Xi Jinping. And of course the Americans just provided the — we just borrowed it, we have returned it already,” the president said.

“They are not willing to give it to us unlike China,” he added.

At least P2.84 billion in US assistance

Despite Duterte’s claims that Washington was not willing to give arms to the country, the US provided a major grant of arms and munitions worth at least P250 million last May, about the same time the conflict in Marawi started.

“In May 2017, a major grant of 200 Glock pistols, 300 M4 carbines, 100 grenade launchers, four mini-guns and individual operator gear worth P250 million was delivered,” US Embassy press attache Molly Koscina told

Koscina also noted that the unmanned aerial vehicle system that the US delivered earlier this year was used in Marawi.

“In January 2017, the U.S. delivered a Raven tactical UAV system worth P60 million which was first tested by the AFP during Balikatan and then used in Marawi,” she said.

Aside from these, the US also provided 25 combat rubber raiding craft and 30 outboard motors worth P250 million to support the Philippine Marine Corps in its counter-terror efforts.

In July, the US officially turned over two C-208 Cessna aircraft worth P1.6 billion to the Philippine Air Force. The surveillance aircraft were used to help in fighting against ISIS-inspired militants in Marawi City.

In August, Washington transferred a radar system to the Philippine Navy, which would enhance its maritime surveillance capabilities.

All of the above mentioned were major grants of the US to the Philippines, disputing Duterte’s remarks that the equipment were only borrowed.

China admitting own aid to Philippine military ‘not that big’

In late June, China turned over P370 million ($7.3 million) worth of military assistance to the Philippines in a ceremony led by President Duterte, whose antipathy toward the Philippines’ traditional ally, the United States, is well known.

Duterte, who has pushed for a policy of rapprochement with China, presided over a turnover of 3,000 rifles and 6 million pieces of ammunition.

While significant on its own given the previous administration’s less cordial approach toward Beijing—Manila’s rival claimant over the South China Sea—it was also aware that the amount of assistance it provided was relatively small.

Chinese Ambassador to the Philippine Zhao Jianhua was quoted as saying the amount was “not that big.”

In comparison, the US provided an average of P3 billion (around $60 million) in grant funding to the Philippine military in the previous five years. The amount included weapons, upgrades and training assistance.

On October 5, meanwhile, China turned over a second batch of military equipment composed of 3,000 units of rifles, 30 sniper cones and 3 million rounds of ammunition.

Assistance to Marawi rehabilitation

As for its support for Task Force Bangon Marawi, the US government made available $14.3 million or about P730 million to directly assist with ongoing emergency relief operations and the longer term recovery of Marawi and surrounding areas.

“With $3 million in Humanitarian Assistance, USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance is working with humanitarian organizations on the ground to deliver critical relief supplies such as safe drinking water, hygiene kits, kitchen sets, shelter materials to improve the conditions in evacuation centers and in host families, and programs to protect displaced women and children,” the US Embassy said.

At the same time, approximately $11.3 million will be used to support the early recovery, stabilization and rehabilitation of Marawi and the surrounding areas.

This includes restoration of basic public services such as health care, water and electricity, jumpstart livelihoods, revitalize the economy, and promote community reconciliation and alternatives to violent extremism.

Image result for USAID, humanitarian, photos, philippines

FILE photo

Aside from the financial grant, the USAID has delivered 12,00 water containers and nearly 100,000 chlorine tablets for safe drinking water to families in evacuation centers. These were delivered upon requests from the Departments of Education and Health.

The USAID had also provided 6,500 desks for temporary schools and psycho-social support for affected teachers and students, according to the US Embassy.

The Philippine government is now shifting its focus to the rebuilding, reconstruction and rehabilitation of Marawi as the fighting in the war-torn city has ended.

“There are no more militants in Marawi City,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said.

RELATED: How other countries helped regain Marawi


G7 to focus on foreign fighter fallout from rout of IS

October 19, 2017


© AFP / by Ella IDE | A member of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) walks through a heavily damaged a street in Raqa, Syria on October 18, 2017

ISCHIA (ITALY) (AFP) – The threat of fresh attacks on the West by foreign fighters fleeing the fallen Islamic State stronghold of Raqa is set to dominate a G7 meeting of interior ministers in Italy.The two-day gathering, which kicks off Thursday on the Italian island of Ischia, comes just days after US-backed forces took full control of the jihadists’ de facto Syrian capital.

Most foreign fighters are believed to have fled over the past few months. Experts say those who stayed are now likely to head for Turkey in the hope of travelling on to Europe to seek revenge for the destruction of the “caliphate”.

Tens of thousands of citizens from Western countries travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight for the group between 2014 and 2016, including extremists who then returned home and staged attacks that claimed dozens of lives.

France, whose some 1,000 nationals were among the biggest contingent of overseas recruits to join IS, stated frankly this weekend that it would be “for the best” if jihadists die fighting.

While border crossings have since tightened making it more difficult for fighters to return, security experts have warned of renewed possibilities of strikes as the pressure on IS intensifies.

“With an Islamic military defeat in Iraq and Syria we could find ourselves facing a return diaspora of foreign fighters,” Italy’s Interior Minister Marco Minniti told a parliamentary committee last week.

“There are an estimated 25,000 to 30,000 foreign fighters from 100 countries. Some of them have been killed of course, but… it’s possible some of the others will try to return home, to northern Africa and Europe,” he said.

– Catching boats to Europe –

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor of the war, said a group of 130-150 foreign fighters, including Europeans, had turned themselves in before the end of the battle in Raqa.

Other reports suggested a convoy of foreign fighters had been able to escape the city towards IS-held territory, a claim denied categorically by Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) officials.

The SDF is expected to contact the home countries of any foreign fighters it holds, to discuss the possibility of turning them over to face prosecution.

But captured fighters could prove a legal headache, with questions raised over what evidence, collected by whom, would be used in a domestic court. Jihadists also become security risks in jails for their potential to radicalise.

French European lawmaker Arnaud Danjean said Wednesday there would be “negotiations with the countries concerned” over what to do with returners.

Minniti warned fighters could take advantage of the confusion and “use the human trafficking routes” to return home — raising the spectre of extremists embarking on the migrant boats which regularly head to Italy.

It meant controversial efforts currently spearheaded by Italy to close the land and sea trafficking routes which cross Africa into Libya and on across the central Mediterranean sea to Europe were “essential”, he added.

– Intelligence war –

The Seven, from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States, will also tackle the hot issue of terrorism online, with analysts warning IS’s loss of territory will turn street-to-street fighting into an intelligence war.

The ministers are due to arrive Thursday afternoon at a medieval castle on the volcanic island off Naples, before retiring for an informal dinner and knuckling down to working sessions on Friday.

They are set to be joined by the EU commissioner for migration Dimitris Avramopoulos, European safety commissioner Julian King, and Juergen Stock, secretary general of the international police body Interpol.

In a G7 first, representatives from Internet giants Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter will also be taking part.

by Ella IDE

MI5 boss Andrew Parker warns of ‘intense’ terror threat

October 19, 2017

BBC News

MI5 chief Andrew Parker: ‘Over 3,000 extremists in the UK’

The UK’s intelligence services are facing an “intense” challenge from terrorism, the head of MI5 has warned.

Andrew Parker said there was currently “more terrorist activity coming at us, more quickly” and that it can also be “harder to detect”.

The UK has suffered five terror attacks this year, and he said MI5 staff had been “deeply affected” by them.

He added that more than 130 Britons who travelled to Iraq and Syria to fight with so-called Islamic State had died.

MI5 was running 500 live operations involving 3,000 individuals involved in extremist activity in some way, he said.

Speaking in London, Mr Parker said the tempo of counter-terrorism operations was the highest he had seen in his 34-year career at MI5.

Twenty attacks had been foiled in the last four years, including seven in the last seven months, he said – all related to what he called Islamist extremism.

The five attacks that got through this year included a suicide bomb attack after an Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena in May, killing 22.

Five people were also killed in April during an attack near the Houses of Parliament, while eight people were killed when three attackers drove a van into pedestrians on London Bridge and launched a knife attack in Borough Market.

A man then drove a van into a crowd of worshippers near a mosque in north London in June, while a homemade bomb partially exploded in tube train at Parsons Green station last month, injuring 30 people.

In some cases, individuals like Khuram Butt – who was behind the London Bridge attack – were well known to MI5 and had been under investigation by the security services.

People leaving flowers in Manchester city centre one week after the Manchester Arena attack
People left flowers in Manchester city centre after the Manchester Arena attack. PA photo

Mr Parker was asked what was the point of MI5 surveillance when someone who had made “no secret of his affiliations with jihadist extremism” had then been allowed to go on to launch a deadly attack.

He said the risk from each individual was assessed on a “daily and weekly basis” and then prioritised “accordingly”.

“One of the main challenges we’ve got is that we only ever have fragments of information, and we have to try to assemble a picture of what might happen, based on those fragments.”

He said the likelihood was that when an attacked happened, it would be carried out by someone “that we know or have known” – otherwise it would mean they had been looking “in completely the wrong place”.

And he said staff at MI5 were deeply affected on a “personal and professional” level when they did happen.

“They are constantly making tough professional judgements based on fragments of intelligence; pinpricks of light against a dark and shifting canvas.”

‘Not the enemy’

Mr Parker said they were trying to “squeeze every drop of learning” from recent incidents.

In the wake of attacks in the UK, there had been some, including some in the Home Office, who questioned whether the counter-terrorist machine – featuring all three intelligence agencies and the police, and with MI5 at its heart – was functioning as effectively as previously thought.

However, there was no indication of a fundamental change in direction in his remarks, with a focus on the scale of the threat making stopping all plots impossible.

“We have to be careful that we do not find ourselves held to some kind of perfect standard of 100%, because that is not achievable,” he said.

“Attacks can sometimes accelerate from inception through planning to action in just a handful of days.

“This pace, together with the way extremists can exploit safe spaces online, can make threats harder to detect and give us a smaller window to intervene.”

Troops from the Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) marching past a ruined building in Raqqa, Syria
Many Britons still fighting in Syria and Iraq may not now return, Andrew Parker said. Reuters photo

He renewed the call for more co-operation from technology companies.

Technology was “not the enemy,” he added, but said companies had a responsibility to deal with the side effects and “dark edges” created by the products they produced.

In particular, he pointed to online purchasing of goods – such as chemicals – as well as the presence of extremist content on social media and encrypted communications.

Assassination risk

He said more than 800 individuals had left the UK for Syria and Iraq.

Some had then returned, often many years ago, and had been subject to risk assessment. Mr Parker revealed at least 130 had been killed in conflict.

Fewer than expected had returned recently, he said, adding that those who were still in Syria and Iraq may not now attempt to come back because they knew they might be arrested.

Mr Parker stressed that international co-operation remained vital and revealed there was a joint operational centre for counter-terrorism based in the Netherlands, where security service officers from a range of countries worked together and shared data.

This had led to 12 arrests in Europe, he added.

In terms of state threats, Mr Parker said the range of clandestine activity conducted by foreign states – including Russia – went from aggressive cyber-attack, through to traditional espionage and the risk of assassination of individuals.

However, he said the UK had strong defences against such activity.


German spy agencies want right to destroy stolen data and ‘hack back’

October 5, 2017


ByAndrea Shalal

BERLIN (Reuters) – Top German intelligence officials on Thursday urged lawmakers to give them greater legal authority to “hack back” in the event of cyber attacks from foreign powers.

Hans-Georg Maassen, head of the BfV domestic intelligence agency, told the parliamentary oversight committee it should be possible to destroy data stolen from German servers and moved to foreign servers to prevent it from being misused.

He said it would also make sense to “infect” foreign servers with software that would enable greater surveillance of any operations directed against German cyber targets, or to extract data, much as human agents are recruited for counter-espionage.

 Image result for BfV domestic intelligence agency, logo

“In the real world, it would be like turning a foreign intelligence agent and getting them to work for us … Something like this should be possible in the cyber world too,” Maassen told the committee in its first public hearing.

“These are ‘hack back’ instruments, but they are below the threshold of destroying or incapacitating a foreign server,” Maassen said.

German officials have blamed APT28, a Russian hacker group said linked to Moscow, for the May 2015 hack of the German lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, and other cyber attacks aimed at political groups, individuals or institutions.

They issued repeated warnings about the possibility that Moscow could seek to influence or disrupt the Sept. 24 German election, although officials have since said they did not see any major push by Russia to do so.

Maassen said it was possible Russia decided the political cost was too great after the backlash that ensued in the United States after a similar effort there.

Russia denies seeking to influence any foreign elections.


Germany’s BND foreign intelligence agency already has the expertise, but not the legal authority, to destroy foreign servers, its chief Bruno Kahl told the committee.

Once the source of attack had been carefully investigated and identified, it could make sense to “shut down the source of such an attack and not have to retreat and give the job of going back in and taking care of business,” Kahl said.

In the end, however, such decisions had to be made by politicians, Kahl said.

Christof Gramm, head of Germany’s MAD military counter-espionage agency, said there were questions of domestic and international law to address before empowering the agencies to take such actions.

“This all has to be worked out. There are international boundaries. We’re not just talking about national law,” Gramm told the committee near the end of a three-hour session.

He said if such powers were granted, it would be up to the military’s cyber command to carry out such actions, not the MAD.

Maassen said authorities needed access to streaming data from foreign servers – for instance of videos showing beheadings – to track radicalization of possible Islamist attackers.

He also called for broader powers to track communications between Germany and Raqqa, the Syrian city still under Islamic State control, noting that current law only allowed the tracking of individual communications, not broader flows.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal and Sabine Siebold; Editing by Richard Balmforth

US Says Aircraft to Help Philippines Fight Pro-IS Militants

August 7, 2017

MANILA, Philippines — The United States has been providing the Philippines with surveillance capabilities, training, information and aircraft to help it fight a months-long siege of a southern city by pro-Islamic State group militants, the top U.S. diplomat said Monday as he prepared to meet the country’s polarizing president.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in Manila for a regional gathering, said the equipment includes a few Cessna aircraft and a few drones. He said they’ll help the Philippines battle “an enemy that fights in a way that most people have never had to deal with.”

“We think they are beginning to get that situation under control,” Tillerson told reporters. “But the real challenge is going to come with once they have the fighting brought to an end how to deal with the conditions on the ground to ensure it does not re-emerge.”

Human rights groups have questioned President Donald Trump’s willingness to engage with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who has been roundly criticized for a bloody war on illegal drugs that has killed thousands of suspects. But Tillerson argued there’s no contradiction presented by the U.S. decision to help his country fight the militants, whose insurgency in the Philippines has stoked global fears about the Islamic State group exporting violence into Southeast Asia and beyond.

“I see no conflict — no conflict at all in our helping them with that situation and our views of the human rights concerns we have with respect to how they carry out their counter narcotics activities,” Tillerson said.

Ahead of the meeting, the U.S. said Tillerson indeed would discuss with Duterte human rights along with all other relevant issues. Duterte’s presidential spokesman, Ernesto Bella, said Monday that the topic would include discuss global terrorism threats, economic cooperation and security in Marawi, the city that has been under militant siege for more than two months.

“We also welcome the opportunity to address concerns such as human rights if and when raised,” Bella said in a statement. “We have always included this issue in our discussions and engagements with foreign governments, particularly Western democracies.”


Associated Press writer Jim Gomez contributed to this report.