Big data surveillance: Chinese police use ID cards to obtain chat records

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Chinese authorities, particularly the police associated with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), utilise individuals’ ID cards to gain access to their chat records as part of their extensive surveillance practices enabled by big data, revealed a recent report of Radio Free Asia on June 14.

The report cited an incident where a netizen, while travelling on a ferry at Haikou Xinhai Port on June 6, was subjected to a random check by customs and the police. It was disclosed that his WeChat chat history could be accessed only using his ID number, even if the conversations had been deleted.

The report further highlighted that implementing ID cards containing embedded chips nationwide, which took place twenty years ago, was promoted to facilitate travel and enhance privacy protection.

However, people were unaware that this would eventually lead to a situation where their entire personal information, including assets, real estate holdings, hotel records, consumption history, and chat records, could be easily obtained through their ID cards. This expansion of surveillance is referred to as the “new strategic direction of deep stability maintenance.”

Eyewitnesses supported the claim that Chinese police have employed technology to extract comprehensive information from individuals’ mobile phones during routine checks. The police can instantly access details such as registered names associated with mobile numbers, WeChat group affiliations, and chat histories.

China has heavily invested in constructing a vast database and collecting personal information from various sources, rendering it virtually impossible to evade surveillance. The report quoted an eyewitness who experienced his Telegram account being compromised by an unidentified individual. This person conversed with the eyewitness, even going so far as to mimic the voice of a renowned writer, Li Chengpeng, from Sichuan.

A former public security officer from mainland China revealed that police could exploit iCloud big data to track individuals and covertly download user data within a 500-meter radius at high speeds. These monitoring techniques have been extensively deployed in recent years, particularly in sensitive regions such as Xinjiang and Tibet.

Another eyewitness reported receiving a phone call warning from the police after disclosing personal information, including their name and province, overseas. The police were able to identify the individual through cross-referencing big data.

The police even possessed knowledge of the eyewitness’s comments made in a specific WeChat group on a particular day, as well as blocked messages sent to a specific account on another specific day.

This revelation left the eyewitness astonished and frightened. The police cautioned against publishing any information deemed unfavourable to the party, the government, or the country’s leaders, threatening potential arrest as a consequence.

In a video released last year, Ah Hao, a Taiwanese network security programmer, discovered an encrypted WeChat log file within the WeChat database on his personal computer. Despite WeChat being in silent mode, the file continued to be updated every few minutes, adding approximately 30KB of data per minute.

Hao speculated that WeChat itself might conduct this ongoing data upload. To prevent unauthorised access, he personally modified the relevant encrypted data stored on his computer. However, most users lack the technical expertise to undertake such modifications.

Arthur Herman, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and director of the Quantum Alliance Initiative, voiced his concerns in a Forbes Magazine editorial published in February. He warned readers to pay close attention to WeChat and its parent company, Tencent, which he perceives as “another social media Trojan horse” employed by the Chinese Communist Party.

Herman highlighted that Chinese users are fully aware that every word they utter, and every picture they post on WeChat are subject to government monitoring and censorship.

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