Is China installing surveillance apps on tourists’ smartphones?

Font Size:

Border security officials operating on the border crossing between Xinjiang and Kyrgyzstan have reportedly been installing surveillance apps on tourists’ phones that give them access to text messages, phone calls, calendar entries and other data.

The ‘spy app’ was revealed after a joint investigation by The Guardian, Motherboard, Süddeutsche Zeitung, the New York Times and German public broadcaster NDR, during which a copy of the app that the authorities accidentally left on a traveller’s phone was reverse engineered.

Usually, according to Travel Weekly, the app is uninstalled by border officers once they are satisfied no suspicious activity is found.

The app, called CellHunter, is used at the border crossing where travellers are asked to unlock their devices and hand them over to border officials for inspection. Any information retrieved is then reportedly stored on a server at the border.

Investigators found the app was trawling for extremist material and propaganda magazines from Isis and al-Qaida, as well as books on Islam, the writings of the Dalai Lama, the history and culture of Xinjiang and criticism of China’s involvement in Taiwan.

While investigators did not find that the app tracked visitor movements, The Guardian suggested that some of the harvested information could be used to allow the Chinese state to track travellers.

“[This app] provides yet another source of evidence showing how pervasive mass surveillance is being carried out in Xinjiang,” said senior researcher at Human Rights Watch Maya Wang.

“We already know that Xinjiang residents – particularly Turkic Muslims – are subjected to round-the-clock and multidimensional surveillance in the region.

“What you’ve found goes beyond that: it suggests that even foreigners are subjected to such mass and unlawful surveillance.”

Were you aware that such processes were in place at borders around the world? Have you ever had to hand your phone over for inspection by border guards?

If you enjoy our content, don’t keep it to yourself. Share our free eNews with your friends and encourage them to sign up.

Join YourLifeChoices today
and get this free eBook!

By joining YourLifeChoices you consent that you have read and agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy


Bill will force you to reveal password or face jail

Proposed new law aims to crack down on online criminal activity.

Is it legal for Airbnb hosts to spy on guests?

Will you be spied upon during your next Airbnb stay?

Why is the US Government reading your emails?

The emails of 280 million people worldwide are being scanned by the US Government.

Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca is a voracious reader who loves words. You'll often find him spending time in galleries, writing, designing, painting, drawing, or photographing and documenting street art. He has a publishing and graphic design background and loves movies and music, but then, who doesn’t?



Total Comments: 2
  1. 0

    China is a big threat, they are conducting mass experimentation on what they can get away with, like detaining over 1 million Muslims in detention centers called retraining centers, taking away their children and brain washing them too.

  2. 0

    Why use the term ‘unlawful surveillance’, it is a provocative and possibly inaccurate. One would suspect that under Chinese law such surveillance would be lawful. When one enters into a foreign country one is subject to their laws not ours.
    No I have never been asked to handover my phone at a border entry point, but then I choose not to enter countries that do not have something resembling a western democratic legal system.



continue reading


Research shows vaccine willingness in Australia is high

COVID-19 vaccination has finally started, but the program will only work if a large enough proportion of the population agrees...


These seven tips are vital for healthy ageing

We're all living longer than ever, so it's a good idea to think about how you can help yourself stay...


Thinking of hiring a cleaner? Here's what you need to know

Busy lives and longer working hours mean today's householders have even less time for domestic chores, and many are turning...


How can the dead send emails? The ethical dilemma of digital souls

Patrick Stokes, Deakin University Tim Hart was sitting on his couch one evening in November 2011 when he got an...

Health news

Australians want to die at home - but do we achieve that goal?

How do you want to die? More than 70 per cent of Australians want the end to come at home,...


Rise in 'grey divorces' sparks warning from legal experts

More Australians are divorcing later in life, leading to "unique, confusing and overwhelming" challenges for couples aged over 50. The...


Friday Funnies: Short jokes for the shortest month

February flies by too fast, just like these short but sharp jokes. What is the recipe for Honeymoon Salad?Lettuce alone...


The four types of hearing loss explained

Research indicates that one in six Australians has some form of hearing loss.  Hearing loss refers to reduced hearing, which...