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Chinese authorities install app on phones of people entering Xinjiang (vice.com)
307 points by el_duderino on July 2, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 292 comments

Before I went to China I bought a burner phone, mainly to install WeChat (which is also a kind of malware and also "required" in China). Basic Android phones are not too expensive these days - I wonder if it will become commonplace to own several and physically separate your life across them?

FWIW I got a Huawei phone (Honor 10 Lite) for under 200 EUR, but much cheaper phones than that are available.

Edit: To be clear this is not to avoid Chinese surveillance. That's unavoidable whatever you do because China is a police state. It's to separate out that surveillance from my contacts and my regular life at home. (I also think it's at least arguable that the Chinese government has a duty to look closely at what foreigners are up to. It's not an argument that I agree with myself very much because it infringes freedom while also making the wrong trade-offs, but given we live in a world of nation states it follows logically from that.)

> Edit: To be clear this is not to avoid Chinese surveillance. That's unavoidable whatever you do because China is a police state. It's to separate out that surveillance from my contacts and my regular life at home.

Not sure what's wrong with avoiding Chinese surveillance. And why you think having a burner phone to separate US and Chinese life is not an act to avoid surveillance.

It makes sense to me. Here's why: In China, surveillance is so pervasive that attempts to avoid it are typically a waste of time and may even arouse suspicion. Seperating US and Chinese life does not prevent surveillance, but it does limit the amount of intelligence gathered.

I bought a dual sim Mi phone for this purpose as well. It worked out really well. At the border crossing from Hong Kong into mainland china, they didn't seem interested in my devices fortunately. Still will wipe my phone before I use it again, however.

even if you wipe your phone you can still have a compromised baseband.

Could you elaborate a bit on this please? I have never heard of such a phenomena which intrigues me quite a bit!

All phones have a 'baseband' firmware which controls the actual radio hardware - it's a binary blob installed by the manufacturer and generally not available to the user to tinker with, although as expected there have been many projects to reverse-engineer them. The firmware exists 'beneath' the OS and all user settings, so in theory, if it's compromised (and there have been PoCs), anything that happens in the baseband would survive a wipe and reinstall of the OS. Basically it means putting malware in a place that the user cannot delete it from.

Malware in the baseband firmware could theoretically intercept or disrupt radio traffic, or migrate from the firmware to the phone via other exploits in the OS to gain even more control. In essence, it's a particularly nasty thing that surveillance states would definitely use to their advantage.

This is why 'burner' devices should be exactly that - destroyed after use, because you simply cannot trust them after they've been anywhere near an invasive surveillance setting.

I suspect OP is thinking where a phone may be taken out of your hands/sight and had paranoid things physically done to it - as in the article.

Next time when you buy a burner phone, please try to be more conscious.

Huawei is likely one of the companies that contributed to this very Xinjiang endeavour [0].

Even if it's not directly related, by buying a Huawei phone, you are voting with your money to support a company that's been hurting innovation with IP theft through the years [1].

[0] https://www.forbes.com/sites/zakdoffman/2019/05/25/huawei-ac...

[1] https://www.wsj.com/articles/huaweis-yearslong-rise-is-litte...

> Huawei is likely one of the companies that contributed to this very Xinjiang endeavour

The article you cite just says that they supplied networking equipment, how is that different than, for example, U.S. conecetration camps using Dell laptops? Would you also blame Dell?

I swear whenever China/Huawei is mentioned on HN, the comments transform into a huge propaganda machine.

You may have missed this paragraph from the article:

> Huawei said they would "provide industry-leading products and services... to build a safer and smarter society with the public security department of the autonomous region." Three months later, the company launched the Huawei Urumqi DevCloud to "promote the development of the software information industry in the district and all of Urumqi."

If that's not enough, please read this another article also from forbes [0].

[0] https://www.forbes.com/sites/zakdoffman/2019/04/25/huawei-xi...

Not sure if it makes it right but people have cited IBM during WW2. It's odd that one complains about propaganda while parroting propaganda (U.S. concentration camps) but that's 2019 for you.

That's a rather unfair comparison, and softens the harsh reality of Huawei's actions. Dell didn't sell the laptops with the intent of them being used for that purpose. China says jump and Huawei jumps to build whatever state-sponsored surveillance tooling they need. That's not how it works with Dell, Cisco, Juniper, etc. Remember the stories about network devices being intercepted via parcel services?

I'd bet I can make you never buy another IBM product. :)

I'll offer you good odds that Dell, Cisco, Juniper et al happily sell equipment to companies and agencies they know are likely to be used to break security systems and harass undocumented migrants.

> China says jump and Huawei jumps to build whatever state-sponsored surveillance tooling they need

We'll see your Huawei and raise you AT&T

"The NSA considers AT&T to be one of its most trusted partners and has lauded the company’s “extreme willingness to help.” It is a collaboration that dates back decades [...] The NSA exploits these relationships [..] commandeering AT&T’s massive infrastructure and using it as a platform to covertly tap into communications processed by other companies."


Kind of ironic you bought a burner phone to avoid Chinese surveillance then turn around and buy a Huawei phone

What difference does it make? Even if the Huawei phone is doing surveillance on its own (and no one credible has ever come up with evidence that this is the case, even though it would be easy to discover), it's got WeChat on it which we know scans every possible Android location and network API all the time and is in constant encrypted communication with the mothership.

But he bought that phone as a burner phone. So then it doesn't matter that it is Huawei right? Apart from supporting them.

I read that as the Huawei phone being the burner phone, which is the point.

Maybe he can save a little time at the border by buying the phone that already reports back to the Communist Party, avoiding the hassle of having the border agents install the spyware while you wait.

> China is a police state

May be good to make the distinction between the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region† in the very north-west of China and the rest of China itself. The surveillance, monitoring, detention, "education", and de-radicalisation that are happening in Xinxiang are not to my knowledge representative of the rest of China. It is, of course, very troublesome that this illiberal dragnet exists anywhere in China. We would do well to remember that the crackdown (on the face of it) is a heavy-handed response to multiple Uyghur Muslim terrorist attacks‡ over decades that have claimed the lives of many and injured many more.

While an argument could be made that if any part of China is a police state then all of it is the same could have been said of, for instance, the United Kingdom at the height of the Troubles. At the time the UK deployed watch towers, mass stop and search checkpoints, and harsh anti-terrorism laws that encroached on everyone's freedoms. This was in Northern Ireland but the rest of the UK was relatively unaffected. And nobody at the time that I'm aware of called the UK a police state. The measures were seen as a clumsy response to localised terrorism.

What I'm saying is: yes we know that China is authoritarian, yes we know that it is totalitarian (bar Hong Kong and even that is crumbling…), yes we know China employs a (some would say draconian) social credit scoring system – but it might even still be a stretch to label China in its entirety as a police state when the measures being discussed (installing surveillance apps on phones at security crossings) are localised to one region of ~25 million people out of a country of ~1.4 billion. I'd like to think that if the whole of China was treated the same way there would be an uprising. For the record the ethnic composition of Xinjiang is: 45.84% Uyghur, 40.48% Han, 6.50% Kazakh, 4.51% Hui, 2.67% Other.

Calling WeChat "a kind of malware", what do you mean by this? I would see a miniscule difference between WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger or whatever and WeChat – none of these corps, be they Tencent or Facebook or whoever are cuddly and friendly, they're all out to extract as much revenue and profit from the eyeballs they engage as humanly possible. If you think WeChat is a kind of malware I expect you think the same about WhatsApp and FB Messenger. If you don't, why don't you? Is WeChat actually required in China? I can't find any article to corroborate this claim. Or are you just saying that it's extremely inconvenient to get by without it. One could say the same about Google or Facebook services in the West.



What definition of "police state" are you using? How do all the things you acknowledge in your third paragraph not make China a police state?

It's effectively totalitarian, special economic zones aside. We've seen what happens if they try to stir the pot politically. Their relative "freedom" is exercised with a guillotine permanently above their heads and no legal rights.

Everyone is surveilled across every arena of life.

And if you really think people only disappear in Xinjiang, look at the history (and continuing present) of human rights or democracy activists. [0]

[0] https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/05/30/human-rights-activism-po...

I think a state can be all the things I said that China is and still not be a police state. All the online articles referencing China being a police state that I can find talk about the extreme measures in that one "autonomous" region of Xinxiang specifically. Do an internet search for yourself and see. Can't freedoms in China be pretty terrible in many respects without it being equated with the worst regimes ever?

<<--Calling WeChat "a kind of malware", what do you mean by this? I would see a miniscule difference between WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger or whatever.-->>

WeChat doesn't have end-to-end encryption, while other apps have them. So the difference is not minuscule. Any communication on Wechat is interceptible by Chinese govt agencies. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/dec/07/wechat-chinese...

Wechat doesn't fit the definition of a "malware", but it is a weapon that Chinese govt uses to monitor it's citizens.

<<--Is WeChat actually required in China? I can't find any article to corroborate this claim. Or are you just saying that it's extremely inconvenient to get by without it. One could say the same about Google or Facebook services in the West.-->>

Read this https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/20/opinion/learning-to-survi...

> WeChat doesn't have end-to-end encryption, while other apps have them

So by that reckoning any program supporting smtp is a "kind of malware"? Or http?

> Is WeChat actually required in China

Not for a typical westerner visiting Beijing, Shanghai etc. Most places will take cash or international credit cards. For immigrants, sure.

Xinjiang may well be different, but it's not on the typical western tourist/business track.

>"China is using technology for the perfection of dictatorship." -Pete Buttigieg, 2020 US presidential candidate

PRC may be blazing the trail, but as the tech becomes proved and available, I won't be surprised to see creeping adoption in more "free" countries (especially following crises).

In China, surveillance is nationalized. In the US, it's nationalized (NSA) and privatized (Facebook). The tech already exists and people are using it willingly.

I like your idea about nationalization vs privatization of national security, but it appears that your example about the US could also be applied to China - replace the NSA with China's MSS, and Facebook with Wechat.

However, large companies in China are tightly coupled with government when it comes to national security issues, while there is probably more pushback in the US.

It's a bs comparison. The Chinese government surveillance is purely for dictatorship, and they do put political opponents and human rights lawyers in jail at a massive scale. The NSA surveillance is mostly for legitimate security reasons and is under restrict scrutiny.


China does it to protect their people from people that want to undermine and dismantle the party

This is true! This is exactly what we want to happen! These are security reasons from their perspective

Can you see how that is not so different? In the US we are as oblivious to the exact nature and motives of security threats too, and tolerate our border and surveillance agencies to preempt an unspecified threat. The mere existence of scrutiny doesnt make the systems that different.

I disagree that it's similar. It's one thing to perform surveillance on individuals where you have strong reasons to suspect they will engage in terrorist acts (meaning making plans to kill lots of people) and quite another to do so because someone disagrees with you being in power. I'm sure there's an overlap of people who do both but that's not the group I'm talking about and I'm also sure NSA/US authorities abuse their powers (hence why we constantly have to fight against power/survaillence creep) to monitor people that are simply political enemies but that doesn't negate the difference between the 2 situations (ie just because the US may engage in that type of behavior doesn't excuse the behavior China engages in). I grew up in an Eastern European communist dictatorship and I know what it means to be afraid to talk against the party and its leader. I'm now an immigrant to the US (so arguably no as many rights as a citizen) and in no way is there the same type of censorship and oppression.

Put it another way, where do you draw the line in terms of how the government is allowed to behave in regards to its citizens since you can pretty much excuse any abusive behavior under the reasoning of "security reasons"?

US intelligence agencies aren't in the business of picking people up and disappearing them for expressing discontent with the power structure.

I believe the Chinese government apparatus is in that business.

Regarding the surveillance for surveillance sake, I don't see much difference. I see you describe exactly what I did.

Exactly. People are already used to much more surveillance than they used and this trend just keeps going. Sometimes it's China taking the lead, sometimes the US, sometimes other countries. But they all look at each other and slowly adopt what the other country is doing.

I am pretty sure the next generation will never see anything other than complete surveillance by countries or corporations. And for them it will seem normal.

To be honest most people already see surveillance capitalism as normal. Weirds me out for one.

If your whole argument is based on fatalism, you might as well say so....because right now you assume the conclusion.

It doesn't look like fatalism to me; the argument is based on the bandwagon effect and how dramatic outcomes can be arrived at through incremental changes.

It's the slow erosion of values. I remember a time when people would "never do online banking", now pretty much everybody does it. Some years ago nobody would have thought it possible that the border agent may ask for social media accounts or decrypt your phone. Now they do it. It's a very slow progression that may take decades but it's happening everywhere.

This bit is important: "Foreigners crossing certain Chinese borders into the Xinjiang region"...

I'm not aware of Chinese authorities getting quite that draconian (yet) at the normal border entry points in Beijing, Shanghai, etc. However, I think it's still worth following the general advice that if you have sensitive data on your devices, leave them at home and use a burner phone/laptop + restore from the cloud later.

OK, Xinjiang is basically a low level war zone/prison camp.

Quite different from the rest of China.

Rest of China is captured by wechat anyways. This is only really useful for foreign reporters travelling in XinJiang. China could technically just ban foreigners from travelling there but somehow thinks the optics of this is better.

It is weird because there are no travel restrictions for foreigners going to Xinjiang (mostly, some places are off limits), you just buy a plane or train ticket. Going to Tibet is a lot harder for foreigners.

I think Tibet still very much has Western imagination captured whereas Uyghar Muslims... do not. Even more cynical analysis, Xinjiang is fundamentally an exercise in reducing the real problem of Islamic radicalization and the non response from many countries (including Muslim ones) is that they are quietly observing to see if the experiment pays off. The danger of Xinjiang is that surveillance state + "vocational" reintegration camps might actually be a productive model that can be exported elsewhere.

Xinjiang is also much larger population (21 million+) wise than Tibet (3 million+), along with the former having a much larger Han population, making restrictions much harder (and less appealing) to implement logistically.

I hope you mean population, not ovulation.

Yikes! Fixed.

The reality for accredited journalists attempting to visit Xinjiang is somewhat different to what's written down, or what a western backpacker on a tourist visa will be subjected to.

Hire a car+driver? Mysteriously cancelled at the last minute. Pressure on any translaters/fixers you may have. Drive somewhere that isn't the hotel? Find that there's an accident and you can't pass that way. Shops that close, constant tailing from security and police, general harassment, and nobody will talk to you because they believe they'll disappear.

When I visited back in 2006 it felt like an occupied country. All the people were ethnic Uyghurs and only the police and military were Han Chinese. It was also the only part of China I visited where the police carried guns. Not only did they carry guns, but they were fully automatic weapons, not just something simple like a pistol.

I don’t think they would even do this if you flew into Urumqi. Just if you crossed a border from one of the stans into xinjiang, and fen these are mostly closed to westerners.

Agreed. I would say the same thing coming into America. Even if you are American. I always refuse to fill out the paper while reentering my own damn country, unless I'm travelling with others. But that means I get pushed to secondary every time. Usually only Hispanic and middle eastern people in there. But the border control agents can take and search anything they want. So I say probably do the same for coming into America on the chance they send you to secondary.

There are million of people arriving in China every year - it would be impossible to do that at their major ports of entry.

The same goes for a lot of EU to US travel I've been told...

And don't bother restoring from the cloud, if any malware gets installed on your device at the border

Here's the original article from Süddeutsche Zeitung (in German):


""What you’ve found goes beyond that: it suggests that even foreigners are subjected to such mass, and unlawful surveillance."" Pretty bold for them to call it unlawful in two places when it was not shown to be against that country's laws. Distasteful, yes. Unlawful? Hard to tell from just this article. Personally, I'm more worried about exported android devices.

Indeed. For something to be unlawful you must have a society beholden to the rule of law, which the PRC is most definitely not.

China signed the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

This action almost certainly violates some of these rights (articles 18-21 come to mind: Articles 18–21 sanctioned the so-called "constitutional liberties", and with spiritual, public, and political freedoms, such as freedom of thought, opinion, religion and conscience, word, and peaceful association of the individual.)

When did China (PRC) sign the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Are you talking about the Republic of China?

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is not a treaty, it is a General Assembly resolution – as such, countries don't "sign it", and it isn't legally binding.

As well as the UDHR, we also have international human rights treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). As a treaty, it is binding on those countries which have ratified or acceded to it (signature alone does not legally bind one to a treaty, it merely expresses an intention to ratify it in the future.) On that point, it is worth noting that PRC signed the ICCPR in 1998, but as yet has not ratified it, so is not legally bound to it. (Previously, in 1967, ROC signed it, but never ratified it either; PRC's position is that ROC's 1967 signature was legally void, hence their own signature in 1998.)

(Technically speaking, an unratified signatory, while not bound to the terms of the treaty itself, is obliged under Article 18 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (VCLT) to "refrain from acts which would defeat the object and purpose of a treaty" – but it is difficult to see how that article could be applicable to the case of China and the ICCPR.)

They must be because the Chinese civil war was still ongoing when the declaration of human rights was voted on in 1948, and the PRC wasn't even seated in the UN until 1971.

They didn't sign it but they voted in favor of it.

Given China's expansive attitude to industrial espionage (all foreign companies are fair game), if I were in charge of security for a large multinational, what's my security policy going to be for my employees who travel to China for meetings? Does this change anything? or is behaviour like this from China or indeed anyone else, already priced in?

Others can chime in, but I believe that most serious companies doing business with China have a burner-device policy for employees travelling to China.

Your devices will all be hacked with industrial espionage malware, and just in case you don't have anything on those devices, you will be given devices as "gifts"—like flash drives and WiFi-equipped smart home devices--that will exploit any devices you didn't bring with you.

INAE, but I believe the usual policy is to accept the gifts but discard them at the first opportunity.

The company I work for (small on the world scale, but reasonably big in my country) forbids our standard issue laptops from going, instead giving us special travel laptops. These are blocked from the corporate wifi and do not have any VPN connection back to the corporate network. We do all email through webmail. We hand them back upon returning and they get wiped with a fresh install of the OS.

I'm always confused when I hear this about why malware researchers don't obtain a huge trove of malware samples (and/or zero-day exploits) by obtaining some of these "gifts" and then connecting them to honeypot devices. If all you have to do to receive one is travel to China as an employee of a major U.S. company, they must be quite easy to get ahold of.

It is not a fun idea to travel to China as a malware researcher. You might get arrested for being involved in encryption at all, which to China means you were smuggling in anti-Party materials. Or, you might be arrested so you can be used as a pawn in a political game:


I imagine the average Joe working at MSFT/AAPL/GOOG/etc. doesn't get such gifts unless they are worth hacking - in which case I imagine the gift-givers would have done their due diligence. Also corporate policies can be pretty specific and strict regarding gifts to eliminate potential conflicts of interests.

Due diligence about whether the gift recipient is likely to to use it personally rather than passing it along to a malware researcher?

Someone must have a lot of free time to do this instead of work.

Microsoft did not have such a policy, but we also had huge development resources already based in China.

The title is a little misleading, as it's a region of China and not the entirety.

However, the implications are still ominous.

I'm curious, how did China develop into such a police state? Anyone able to point me to some reading on the subject?

Basically China is too big and doesn't have good natural internal borders so throughout history it has only held together when the central government was especially ruthless. It's just too easy to steamroll off of some early military victories, so all insurrection needs to be quashed before it ever really gets started. This means you need a brutal police state.

In modern times the traditions of the past remain even after the natural barriers of communication time and mobilization speed have been eradicated by modern technology. The rules of the past become a part of the culture, language, and customs of the people, even after they are theoretically obsolete. Finally, there is a natural fear of retribution you see when a minority oppresses the majority for a long time. The minority doesn't want to be treated as they treated the majority for so long, and are terrified that if they give an inch they'll find themselves hanging from a pole just like so many of their victims.

China is also working very hard to get rid of its minorities by simply distributing Han Chinese everywhere.

It's basically ethnic cleansing by dilution. In Xinjiang and Tibet it appears to go beyond just dilution, but that is the primary mechanism. When I was living there, there were tons of incentives to encourage Han Chinese to migrate to both Xinjiang and Tibet to completely dilute the local minorities to the point of irrelevancy.

In the US we called this "the melting pot". It doesn't matter what your ethnicity was before you moved here, your traditions and beliefs get integrated into American society so you are just an American.

This sort of thing has had a lot of pushback lately from well meaning but IMHO misguided folks who complain about "cultural appropriation".

You aren't asked to forget your cultural traditions, you're asked to bring your neighbors into them. To share the culture. But also to admit that the edges are probably going to be sanded off and you're going to see people from outside of your group participating.

Get rid of minority? You have no idea what the real situation in China.In China, minority has much better benefits than Han people. If a child born from a minority and a Han parents, the parents will usually choose minority as his/her ethnity. Because the kids can have additional points at the college entrance exams, they can have two or even three children when Han can have only one child in the past. When a Han and a minority commit the same crime, the minority get less punishment.

In a world like today, are you blaming people moving to other regions just to get jobs? Because that is what happens in China and else where in the world. It has nothing to with “getting rid of minorities”.

It’s almost always been like that. The surveillance 25 years ago were grannies and aunties on the first floor of buildings keeping track of who comes and goes. Gates were already installed at many living compounds, so the guards too could easily see who comes and goes. Read about the danwei system, which essentially monitored everyone’s movements and indeed life path from birth until death. Not as high tech as now, but the control and surveillance has always been there. This is probably why the escalation has occurred without too much fuss from the general populace.

There were multiple terrorist attacks in that region. Once China started cracking down, there haven’t been any.

We know that putting people in concentration camps by the millions is effective.

It takes a particular kind of cruelty to see the world from the eye of effectiveness only, and that thinking propagates through society.

No surprise that Chinese have been found to be the least honest and least trustworthy society in many experiments and studies, e.g.



We are embedded in society, always. One should be careful thinking only about effectiveness and efficiency, and not individual dignity. There's a feedback.

Please don't use HN for nationalistic flamewar. It's not what this site is for. Racial/ethnic/national slurs are particularly unwelome.


Edit: we had to ask you this before (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19989263). We ban accounts that repeatedly violate the site guidelines, so please don't do this.

Although it’s not specific to modern China, if you haven’t read it then (irrespective of your views on the Austrian school more broadly) I’d recommend Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom on this. It’s quite prescient in describing how the path of proto communist states veers towards totalitarianism.

China was never really not a police state of some sort. The ancient Imperial system broke down at the dawning of the modern era, and the Kuomintang "Republic of China" arose to replace it. It never managed to achieve either internal security or nationwide fair elections, and got into an extremely brutal fight with Communist insurgents. The communists were forced into retreat (Long March) during which most of them died - but the survivors, Mao among them, were inured to brutality. Eventually the Communists won on the mainland, leaving the Kuomintang in control of the island we now call Taiwan. The shooting stopped but the war is still officially in progress, hence all the weirdness around recognising Taiwan.

The key to Communism in the Maoist approach was absolute central control and the sweeping away of all obstacles; if you stood in the way of, objected to, or even were insufficiently enthusiastic about its plans you would be murdered.

Economic control was gradually loosened in the latter half of the 20th century, but political control remains tight.

> China was never really not a police state of some sort.

Even ancient Imperial China was very much like this. To the point where China basically had no such thing as a legal system in the Western sense! The only kind of dispute resolution was mutually-assured destruction via criminal-like prosecution, basically "If I think you've been trying to cheat me out of something, I can get government goons to beat you up, for theft or whatever." And the government goons often beat up both disputants, for good measure. It's surprising that they even managed to build a halfway-functioning society and keep it going for thousands of years, out of such crudities.

But that's what's interesting about China!

It's an alternative civilization!

The last 30 years we've seen it develop at a rate that is obviously impossible given the experience of all other countries. Yet this, very different, country does it.

It's good to have diversity in governance systems and be able to see the different outcomes, even from systems everyone "knows" shouldn't work.

How is it "obviously impossible"? Most of the developed countries went through rocket growth phases at some point.

Yeah, for example Japan had crazy rate of growth for quite a while after WW2.

Japan already was a rich industrialized nation before WW2.

China was one of the poorest countries on earth in the 1980s.

>Japan already was a rich industrialized nation before WW2.

Look at the previous century and how quickly they modernized.

As for other examples of extreme growth this century. Look at South Korea, Taiwan, the USSR etc... China shows a difference in scale due to population size, but it's growth rate was certainly not unprecedented.

I actually think it is unprecedented!

Not only was China poor on an African level. It had a communist command economy. Compare to how the former Soviet block countries have floundered in the same period, despite starting from a higher economic level.

Maybe South Korea and Taiwan are comparable, I don't know. China's rise is still by its size the biggest event in world history the last 30 years. And no one in 1989 would have predicted it.

>Maybe South Korea and Taiwan are comparable, I don't know. China's rise is still by its size...

That's what I said. Other developing countries have grown just as fast or faster. The difference is that China happens to have the largest population in the world.

>Not only was China poor on an African level. It had a communist command economy. Compare to how the former Soviet block countries have floundered in the same period, despite starting from a higher economic level.

China voluntarily introduced capitalism in a controlled fashion. Former Soviet countries were the remnants of a collapsed nation. They aren't particularly comparable during the time period you're looking at.

China was a nuclear power since 1964. Part of the reason Nixon had to go there in the first place.

True, but you can't eat nuclear bombs.

China was a communist military dictatorship. All resources went to the military, while millions starved to death.

> It's good to have diversity in governance systems and be able to see the different outcomes...

I've been lucky not to experience this myself, but I imagine it is bad to experience the "different outcomes" firsthand when the governance system -- novel as it might appear from a distance -- has foundations in violent suppression of individual freedom.

Are you sure you're not experiencing it right now? There aren't many countries that weren't founded on violent suppression of individual freedom - either through war, (probably with compulsory conscription), occupation, or a low-freedom society like feudalism or tribalism.

When you say individual freedom, I think you really mean individual political freedom. Excluding Xinjian, China has probably more freedom in day-to-day life for individuals than, say, America because it has less violent crime, less imprisonment, and lower regulatory barriers to doing business. It might be that it can only achieve these good things by restricting political freedom.

Even when they do restrict individual freedom, like with the one child policy, and internal travel restrictions, that has the aim of making the overall society better. There's a trade-off between individual freedom and survival and growth of the society. Too much freedom is anarchy and too little is totalitarianism. Where is the sweet spot?

Of course.

Then again, when some lunatic American colonists tried an alternative system of governance everyone knew was absurd and evil, it worked out surprisingly well.

I guess what I most of all am arguing against is unified world government.

> "Then again, when some lunatic American colonists tried an alternative system of governance everyone knew was absurd and evil, it worked out surprisingly well."

Are you sure they did? At the time republicanism was in vogue because Roman classicalism was currently in fashion. However these same men (particularly Hamilton) spoke very negatively about democracy, considering it a road to tyranny.

So at the time, democracy was considered absurd and perhaps evil. But were republics? The UK had an experience with republicanism before America, under Cromwell (that left a bad taste in the mouths of many monarchists) but even so it changed the way a lot of people thought. John Locke for instance predates the American revolution.

> alternative system of governance everyone knew was absurd and evil

Kind of ridiculous hyperbole here; there may have been the usual establishment bootlickers saying that, but the US was hardly the first Republic in the world.

I think most reasonable people agree with the idea of pluralism, and benefit to diverse approaches to governance. However, I think your original take ignores the fact that China has stood on the shoulders of Western liberalism and the 20th century innovation it has produced. IP theft and mercantile trade policies can only work when existing alongside an innovative and free enterprise system which they can exploit for unilateral benefit.

Ironically, one of the most controversial parts of the Annapolis Convention (which came up with the current US constitution after it was decided that the articles of confederation used since before independence didn't work) was the question of whether an effectively national government/republic over an area as large as the then 13 states was actually possible to operate as a democracy.

Of note here is that the American lunatics and the Chinese lunatics exactly evoke the opposite concern in people.

For the United States, many land owners were concerned with these radical ideas of free people and a republic, e.g. breaking away from autocracy, because they believed that people would be inherently prone to chaos and violence.

For China, the opposite is true. People are concerned about the autocratic dictatorship that subdues personal freedom to the goal of the PRC and state, as they believe human progress, kindness and trust will be stifled and ultimately destroyed in such a system.

I find it quite interesting.

Why is it surprising? Maybe the Chinese have discovered the only way to build a lasting civilization that doesn't bomb itself into oblivion every century like Europe does.

That's ignorant. The Taiping Rebellion was comparable in death toll to the world wars, despite the technology involved being significantly more primitive.

No poison gas, no aerial strategic bombing, no blitzkrieg, dive bombers or machine guns. But 20-70 million people dead nevertheless.

Does Signal prevent this or not?

If the malware roots the device, probably not, but if it takes read.sms permissions, it should only get ciphertext. if it replaces the main SMS messenger, then it breaks, but you'd know.

I just did a rough threat model on this exact scenario and worked with the assumption that Signal's MasterSecret covered it in the sms DB - but haven't done a thorough code review yet.

Yet another reason not to visit China.

Or just bring a burner phone that you can throw out before leaving.

Or no phone

The headline is really alarmist, implying China in general is applying this practice, while the reality is that this is a practice limited to sensitive regions. It's pretty much in line with the status quo in Western China. China has been very protective of the Xinjiang region for a long time, and very restrictive on travel in and out, especially for foreigners.

But here we go, we've started an alarmist comment thread where we've extended this out way beyond the current implementation, extending it into some kind of dystopian future where this kind of thing is universal. Time to get a burner phone and lock ourselves at home with our tin foil hats tightly in place!

All countries have always been paranoid when it comes to more contested and less stable regions. It's nothing new nor a surprise. Is this situation a good thing? No. It's been a human rights problem for decades.

Still, we should stop freaking out, that would be great.

This is not the customs and border process in China as a whole. It's not a reason to cancel a trip to Shanghai or Beijing or Xi'an.

Nobody can afford to care about all of the bad things in the world all of the time. Unfortunate but true. When people do find the attention budget to care about a bad thing, why is that a bad thing? Why is it appropriate to be dismissive?

> It's pretty much in line with the status quo in Western China

It's not bad because it's exceptional, it's bad because it inerhently is. If else the fact that it is normal makes it even worse

The head line is:

> China Snares Tourists’ Phones in Surveillance Dragnet by Adding Secret App

and subtitle :

> Border authorities routinely install the app on the phones of people entering the Xinjiang region by land from Central Asia, gathering personal data and scanning for material considered objectionable.

Considering the scale of what China is accused of doing in Xinjiang and China's role as the vanguard of modern surveillance, what is alarmist about this?

Do you think that China is unwilling to use this same tech at the Pudong airport?

What is a sensitive region? Are there any similar regions in Western Europe?

"Sensitive region" in this context means a region historically populated by a different ethnicity than which dominates the central government, and which would like to be free of that central government. In China these are specifically the Uighurs in Xinjiang versus the overwhelmingly Han Chinese central government.

States of emergency have been called in the past for various regions in Western Europe where violent separatist movements were active, but those moments have mainly abated, and besides, Western European governments these days are not so fond of mass surveillance as China.

Just across the strait of Gibraltar, however, one does encounter a similar situation in Morocco, namely in the region of Western Sahara which Morocco occupied back in the 1970s. Western Sahara is historically populated by a different ethnicity (the Saharawis) who chafed at Moroccan control of the region. Foreigners traveling on the roads through the region will encounter a long series of police roadblocks, and police do occasionally demand social-media accounts and passwords from travelers. The situation is vaguely like Xinjiang, although the Moroccan police are much more laidback, so a person can refuse to give them information and just bullshit about not having Facebook or Whatsapp. Compared to the very organized and rigorous Chinese police state, the Moroccan forces are pretty amateur.

Move on, nothing to see here. Our investors would be very unhappy if we ACTUALLY had to take a moral stand on the human rights violations in our Shenzhen supply chain.

Urumqi is a quite big transit hub, but I opt to never buy flights through it for the chance of winning a free cavity search. That's another reason to keep away from that place.

I don’t think you would have much problems in Urumqi these days, the problems only start when you leave the big city.

Is Urumqi really an international hub? I can’t imagine anyone flying through that city for any trip that didn’t originate or terminate in China. Chengdu is much more of the hub these days.

Well, it is. The airport is past gigantic for the city of its size, and landing fees are said to be quite low. I think nearly all companies flying narrowbodies from Europe to China do stopover here, except for Central Asian airlines who have a natural option of doing stopover in home countries.

I flew through it once, and now I will never do it ever again...

I do feel that bigger name European airlines opting to reroute flights to China through Chengdu had all of above in mind

Who is flying narrow bodies between Europe and China? Moscow (via Aeroflot or whatever) works better for trips to Europe given earth curvature. The only nonstops I can find are Moscow, St Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Baku, Astana, Tbilisi, which all makes sense, most of those are Central Asia or almost so, and then Russia. What am I missing?

Russia is one of few countries not giving a "freedom of air." Overflight rights are only given to flag carriers at extortionate rates, most EU-China flights have to take rather weird routes.

There used to be flights through Urumqi on EU-China routes just 2 years ago with stops just in it or in Almaty by quite a number of airlines.

The accursed flight I was on was done by China Southern

Unless someone else is paying, I always fly Aeroflot via Moscow when going between Beijing and Europe. Not only are the fares very reasonable, but Moscow airport is a fairly nice lay over (they serve beer at Burger King).

I’ve flown out of Urumqi once on a domestic. Even that domestic flight required a one night layover in Xian. Annoying.

I visited Xinjiang and Urumqi back in 2005, before smartphones... Feeling nostalgic all of a sudden.

> The Süddeutsche Zeitung reporter said they saw machines that appeared to be for searching iPhones at the border.

Is this known to be possible? I would've thought it isn't (at least without the user entering their passcode and "trusting" the device).

> without the user entering their passcode and "trusting" the device

Right, do you want to enter the country or not? Click that button, sir.

Why not do it at carrier level? much simpler.

NSA could monitor all of us without installing any spyware.

China should improve its surveillance techniques!

Probably encryption makes that harder

This is bad PR for the Chinese government, but only in the West. They will probably stop doing this when they can get some NSA type organization to do this. Its much easier to vacuum up the data behind the scenes.

The journalists also asked researchers at ... Open Technology Fund, an initiative funded by the United States government under Radio Free Asia ... so the CIA basically?

If its just text stealing I guess it's better than having to give your login details?

I fear backlash from this comment, but is this a case against side-loading apps?

No, because if it is mandated by law then it will need to be available region locked in app stores for China.

So with this stance (ie. against "side-loading" - what a crappy term) not only you make things worse for everyone (not being able to use their own devices as they see fit) even though they wouldn't be visiting China, you also validate region locking (another shitty practice that has no place in a global internet and only serves whoever wants to divide people) including any tech necessary for it (and thus monetary incentives for whoever implements it) and not solve the issue at hand (people being forced to install malware) since it can be done just as easily through normal routes.

No, if you do not want such stuff then speak against it and do not put yourself in a position to be affected by it (do not visit China, use burner phones, whatever).

Note that the software does not currently appear on online marketplaces; it seems to be installable exclusively via sideloading. I don't think anyone has really tested what would happen when a government legally mandates for app stores to carry state-sponsored malware.

We'll definitely see it once Huawei releases their own app-store and ecosystem for China.

Introducing one evil to protect against another. To me, prohibiting apk installs would be similar to prohibiting mobile data and mobile calling/SMS altogether, since the technology can be used to track you. It would be workable and a huge improvement for privacy, even if there are major downsides.

Perhaps it is more illustrative to compare it with physical stores. The Google Play Store is one store, F-Droid is another well-known one, and there are others. Allowing only Google to install apps on your device would be like allowing people to only buy products from a store controlled by the producer of the product, reasoning that other stores might modify the product. If cheese was solely a Dutch product, the Dutch producer would get to prohibit Americans from buying cheese at stores other than a single Dutch chain, with no oversight of the American government (such as the FDA) for fear of product manipulation. They might infect it! Bringing it back to Android, I (a Dutchman) would only be allowed to get my apps from the Google store which is within some foreign jurisdiction.

> This is yet another example of why the surveillance regime in Xinjiang is one of the most unlawful

This is hyperbolic. It's potentially reprehensible and almost certainly oppressive. But it's not unlawful in a state without the rule of law.

Is there any way to get a copy of the application? I'm sure there are some of us that would love to take it apart and look for URLs / file hashes it is looking for.

What I don't understand is why they leave the app installed on the person's phone after the scan if it does not do any further scanning in the background.

I wouldn't be surprised if the app is a visa requirement while visiting.

The app is to monitor foreigners and the natives, while they're in Xinjiang. Deleting the app on just one scan would be defeating the purpose.

Seems to me like carelessness / incompetence. One of the articles I've read on this topic suggested that in most cases they remove the app.

Looks like there are ways to block sideloading of apps:


Basically you create an enterprise profile for your phone and block sideloading of apps as a policy ("Disallow_Install_Unknown_Sources). Same with iOS.

I'll never open HN again. I talked with some American/EU/Australian folks, in twitter and my company, and they're very nice. I just couldn't understand, why so many people in HN are so arrogant and self-righteous.

I just can't stand those comments, they remind me of Trump- “No one knows China better than me” Although they basiclly know nothing, just as Trump.

Android needs an incognito mode or some way to set up a secondary user that looks as if it's the only user on the device. Maybe this mode/user can be triggered with a different passcode or finger.

> The Süddeutsche Zeitung reporter said they saw machines that appeared to be for searching iPhones at the border.

I'm curious if anyone managed to grab a look at these as well.

The article only mentions Android. Does anyone know what the process is for iPhones at the border?

My guess is they force you to hand over your pin code/unlock your phone and extract it manually.

So it’s android only?

From the article:

>Apple devices were not spared scrutiny. Visitors’ iPhones were unlocked and connected via a USB cable to a hand-held device, the journalist said. What the device did could not be determined.

iOS is probably looked at as well, but has to be done manually since there's no way to just do it with a simple app.

I'd wager that they have a enterprise certificate to sign the iOS app with. Then it's a matter of sending the spy victims to a URL, installing the app and granting access to photos/ location/ whatever.

Nope.. the user would also have to open Settings and explicitly mark the vendor certificate as trusted.

It says the devices were unlocked then the device was connected. I would assume the device is in the custody of the Chinese authority at this point. Thus, they can just go into Settings and trust the cert.

Changing trust settings on device requires the password.

Better question is: what are they able to pull off the device while it's unlocked?

iOS too, they ask for the PIN so they can unlock and install etc

The US is forcing its tourists to give away a list of all their social media accounts and all their email accounts. If you're a foreign journalist writing pseudonymously for your safety, you must now share that information with the US government to enter the country. This isn't quite on the level of forcing people to install malware on their phone yet, but give it a couple years.

That's worse IMO.

I can (and would) opt out of taking my phone to China. I can't easily dodge US' requirements.

These two bully super-powers really give me a bad feeling about the future...

I can (and would) opt out of going to China.

I'm all set with authoritarian dictatorships with torture camps and organ harvesting.


This is grasping at straws. If you think the situation in US is anywhere remotely close to China, you are either under the influence of severe propaganda, or just don't know what's actually going on in both countries.

China has no actual rule of law and is a de facto authoritarian dictatorship.

I think people who say this forget about the “war on terror” and all the innocent civilians killed in drone stikes.

That is an entirely different thing. You're talking foreign policy, I'm talking domestic policy.

I think the point they were making is that if you decline to visit a region for moral reasons, then many other regions such as the US should also meet the abstract binary threshold even if they clearly aren't as bad.

So you say that as long as you kill foreigners it is ok comparatively to state killing their own?

Stopping noncitizens at the border for processing is a far cry from dragging millions of people out of their homes.

Would you classify the US treatment of Japanese citizens during WW2 as inhumane?

Back then, they were called war relocation centers. Right now, we call them concentration camps. Same thing will happen with the current camps, both in the US and China. In both cases, it's only the citizens of those countries that object to the usage of the term "concentration camps", while everyone else classifies them properly. Nobody in the history has called their own camps for what they truly are. Keeping people in inhumane conditions because the government identified their nationality as suspects is a terrible thing to do regardless of how that same government tries to spin it.

Those Japanese-American detainees had legal residential status when they were illegally rounded up without due process.

The detainees in the current border camps have no such status. Some of them are eventually admitted as refugees but there is no obligation to allow any of them to simply enter the country.

Presumably they would be permitted to leave the camps if they decided to go to a different country. If not, then the camps are in fact concentration camps. If so, then the comparison is hysterical political outrage that spits in the face of actual political detention.

> Those Japanese-American detainees had legal residential status when they were illegally rounded up without due process.

...and let me quote the SCOTUS decision in the Korematsu v. U.S. (1944):

> Regardless of the true nature of the assembly and relocation centers—and we deem it unjustifiable to call them concentration camps with all the ugly connotations that term implies— we are dealing specifically: with nothing but an exclusion order.

Do you not see the issue here?

The individuals being detained would not be permitted to leave the camps to simply go elsewhere. As per Section 1325 of Title 8 in the U.S. Code, they have committed a crime and are being detained on that basis.

What crime did the Japanese Americans commit.

I think it's far easier to offer up dummy social accounts (even for non-techies) vs being forced to install malware on your phone.

I am not very good at lying. I would not be able to look an officer in the eye and say that I wasn't on social media.

Leaving a posh phone at home to take my old phone I could do without moral complications. I could even say I left my posh phone at home because I didn't want it lost/stolen on my travels. That would not be lying even if the real reason was that I didn't want it violated by a customs officer.

What if you just say no? I don't use any social media and it can't be that unusual

IANAL but that could be interpreted as lying to a federal officer, given your participation in Hacker News discussions

But when internet forums count as social media, few can provide a complete list of websites they have engaged with.

I definitely can't recall every one of those I had been on in the last decades.

The law will have to define explicitly what it means to have an active social media account.

I wonder if one could truthfully state "no, I'm not on any social media [at this exact moment, since I'm talking to you and not actively using any social media]" and avoid any potential legal trouble, or if there's some clause or mechanism in whatever law applies here that's designed specifically to address intentionally misleading word choices.

They already can force you to give up physical access to your phone, which is basically the worst option.

They can't force you to unlock it, however.

Well, they can confiscate it and/or deport you if you don't.

Sure. If you're not a citizen, they can also probably hold you for a while too. But I don't think they can compel you to unlock the device.

> for a while

Not just a while. The US Patriot Act gave powers to allow border controls to hold people indefinitely without cause.

Please produce at least several prominent examples of that actually happening to tourists over the last decade.

The US is a massive country that ~75 million foreigners visit each year. In 2018 that figure hit an all-time record high near 78 million, which is in curious contrast to your setup premise.

With so many people visiting the US every year, you surely can produce a very large number of examples of toursts being held indefinitely - for many years even, one imagines - without cause.

The simple answer here is that unless the US government is going to provide statistics, then there is almost no data, and there can be almost no data, because of the nature of the accusation.

Holding people indefinitely without need of cause, and without a clear legal way for them to communicate with other people, there can be no information on this. It's like asking for pictures of the inside of a black hole, or a message when you reach the area that causes your phone to explode. And on the way out? They can force them to sign anything to say that it didn't happen.

Yes, this does sound very conspiracy-esque. But we're talking about a country that tried to assassinate Castro 600 times, and several times poison him to make his beard fall out. Doesn't that also sound crazy? We have clear evidence that the US has these powers, and thanks to guantanamo and what's currently happening in the ICE camps, we have clear evidence that they will use that sort of legislation when it suits them. Even if it clearly violates international and domestic human rights laws.

Another answer is that the sheer sum of people that that is happening to, doesn't matter. It's the fact that the government has granted itself those powers in the first place, that matters here.

As an analogy, I don't care that nobody in the camp has hit my child over the head with a large stick, I care that they have gone to the pain of stating, in their code of conduct and in the contract of attending the camp, that they can hit my child over the head with a large stick if they wish, with no repercussions, and that my child is responsible. Do you see?

In reality most tourist will hand over their devices though, to avoid being sent back to their country of origin.

Yeah, nobody is going to ruin their entire vacation by stonewalling the border security. This is why my friend let a border agent view her Tinder messages to ensure that "she wasn't coming for sex work," and then endured his parting words: "well, it seems that you're a good girl ;)."

Looks like the US is implementing the same policy Israel had for years. Make people feel like shit for coming into the country. I've been hearing these stories from tourists who visited Israel for years - and I honestly have no idea what the reason is.

From my point of view, the reason is little more than petty power trips. When the job of exercising a little bit of authority becomes mundane or rote, people will look for ways to "spice it up." Since we--globally, not just in the US--have built up a lot of these authority jobs as optional-in-name-only (sure, you don't have to put up with TSA but you do if you want to go on that vacation to Portugal and take under three weeks to get there), there are few repercussions for those "small slights."

Take the anecdote of the person to whom you replied. Lots of people will tell that person's friend, "oh, just let it go, the border agent didn't really mean anything." And if the person complains to a higher authority, the complaint is staggeringly likely to get brushed off, if not used in exactly the opposite way the person intended when filing it.

At a previous job of mine, I worked for the phone-based customer service while another team in the same group operated service windows for in-person assistance. No authority here at all, just answering questions. More often than not, if someone filed a complaint about how one of our window clerks had treated them, the supervisor delivering the complaint to the clerk treated it as a joke. "Well, it says here you told the woman she should smile more. I pulled the security tape and she was pretty cute. Sure would have looked nicer if she had smiled, yeah?" Yeah boss, sure would have! "Darn right, can't fault you there, so we'll just toss this one as unwarranted, yeah?"

On the last ESTA form I saw, they were asking not for all, but specific accounts. Apart from fb and Twitter there was also github, but I don’t remember seeing mastedon for example. Did I miss something?

The ESTA will be a bit different, but the exact question from the US visa application is:

7. Public-facing social media platforms and identifiers/handles used during the last five years. This includes any websites or applications the applicant has used to create or share content (photos, videos, status updates, etc.) as part of a public profile.

I was advised by my lawyer that this covers Reddit and HN, and Facebook/Instagram (if I had any of those which I don't any more).

The lawyer didn't mention github however, but someone can search my name and find that in 1 click anyway, that's hardly private information.

Honestly I would been unable to give an accurate answer, I would certainly forget something I used in the past 5 years.

Well another question was much worse than that one:

1. Your complete travel history over the last 15 years, including source of funding for travel, in chronological order.

I don't know anyone who would be able to answer that one accurately.

> I don't know anyone who would be able to answer that one accurately.

Of course, this is typical for dystopian governments. If everyone is technically guilty of a crime, and there is selective or variable enforcement, then you can justify the punishment that you want to mete out to specific people.

If I didn't know better, I'd think you were quoting a darkly humorous dystopian novel. Only the top few percent of obsessively organized people and the bottom few percent of infrequent travelers will ever be able to answer that question truthfully. What a farce.

I don't see how I can exclude anything but banking, hosting and PIM from this (and some PIM apps and hosting platforms have their own discussion or support forums). So the only compliant answer to that would be an export from the password database with almost all of the 800 accounts in the ‘web’ category.

And I ain't gonna research when I last used each of those accounts.

Haven’t read up on this, but looks like if they’re looking for graphs they would include linked in profiles too...

Even if you don’t post anything on LinkedIn besides your work experience, arguably, that would count as “status updates.” This would seem to include any number of dating sites and other things people don’t typically think of as “social media,” as well.

Yes, the lawyer mentioned LinkedIn as one. She didn't mention dating websites specifically that I recall, but I agree with you it sounds like they would be covered from the definition.

Dating sites would not be covered.

You have a public profile on which you can post status updates and photos. Sounds like it’s covered, to me.

It’s not covered. The form lists specific social networks and asks for the usernames to those networks.

Here’s what the form actually says;

> Select from the list below each social media platform you have used within the last five years. In the space next to the platform’s name, enter the username or handle you have used on that platform. Please do not provide your passwords. If you have used more than one platform or more than one username or handle on a single platform, click the ‘Add Another’ button to list each one separately. If you have not used any of the listed social media platforms in the last five years, select ‘None.’”

Here’s a screenshot of the form:


Yeah I guess they have a watchlist of social media accounts and look for anyone who applies with one of those accounts or is N steps away (where hopefully N <= 1, because anything else leads to madness).

That’s my guess as well. They’re probably only looking at “bigger” sites: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Reddit, Instagram, Snapchat, WhatsApp, WeChat, and maybe YouTube.

But, it’s the broadness of the definition that’s of concern. That forum you registered at a year ago to ask a random question, never to return? Covered. Dating sites? Yep. Stack Overflow, Quora, etc. definitely. Yelp? For sure.

Then there are sites you can probably twist the definition to cover. Amazon might make this list, since you have the ability to post a public “wish list.” Things like Rover would count, because you have a “pet profile” and can post reviews of sitters, even though nobody says Rover is a social networking app.

Then there’s the class of “sites an adversary with unlimited resources for lawyers” might press to include. You posted a comment on a random blog? We consider your comment history to be your “public profile,” etc. The potential for overreach is huge, even if we don’t get to absurd levels such as this.

> a public profile

What if the profile isn't part of a person's profile? As in it has zero relation to their "real" life.

I think public in this context means viewable to the general public, whether it’s anonymous or not.

I can see them adding in boutique social networks as people move to them.

Github? Really?

This was optional on the ESTA form when I completed it less than a month ago, maybe it's different for different countries.

Not a good direction but also not enforced in my experience.

See https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20337393 for the difference between ESTA and visa applications on this point.

Or they can just get the NSA to do their dirty-work. Non-US citizens have little to no protections against the NSA and the CIA spying on them.

I assume you're referring to this form: https://www.axistravel.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/ONL...

Regarding email address, it's under "contact information" same as "home address". What's the problem?

Regarding social media, it says "optional", so...?

This is the form for ESTA, the travel authorization one must obtain if entering the US under the visa waiver program by air or sea. On the visa application forms, the social media questions are not optional, though still limited to a particular list of social media sites. The visa form is used people from countries who are not in the visa waiver program as well as who are not entering under the VWP (for example workers, students, journalists, tourists/business travelers staying longer than 90 days, and immigrants).

Please edit personal swipes out of your comments here.


I was referring to "give away a list of all their social media accounts and all their email accounts", not "If you ... you must now share that information". Your references make no mention of the former.

How is this enforcable? ...or is it just the accounts that you will be using while in the US? Technically this seems difficult to enforce.

I think the point will be selective enforcement. Make a completely unreasonable request that travelers are unlikely to perfectly comply with (even if inadvertently -- do you remember your Digg profile?) and later enforce a penalty at your discretion. Soft-totalitarianism.

I've always liked the term Anarcho-Tyranny for this type of thing.

It's the biggest reason why I am a huge fan of the idea of mandatory prosecution. If we can't afford to prosecute all the crimes we have on the books perhaps we have too many crimes on the books

You can potentially be permanently banned from entering the US if you lie or omit information.

Remember what name you used on that obscure forum you signed up for just to read a single answer in a single thread? No? Well, sucks to be you.

I'm guessing in 99% of cases this information is either ignored or dumped into a database where a surveillance dragnet will lightly touch every record regularly looking for specific matches.

But in the remaining 1% it will be abused to skirt around someone's human rights.

And maybe they're hoping to catch some really dumb terrorists that write down the "Death to America" forum on that list.

I do find it interesting that the form is not compatible with anonymous posting like 4chan.

> The US ...

This style of argument is deflection, and it gets us nowhere.

It's very effective in redirecting the focus away from one bad actor and onto another bad actor, though.

To add to your comment:

We should be critical of our own government. Panarky clearly agrees with this (me too). The difference is that the conversation is about China. We can also have a conversation about the US or <insert any Western country> and how they are not respecting people's freedom. But this conversation is about China. It's also a conversation that needs to be had.

Plus this redirection is similar to "Bob shot a guy 30 times." "Oh yeah? Bill punched a guy". Neither Bob or Bill are likely good guys, but come on... Bob is definitely worse and Bill's actions don't really relate to how we want to condemn Bob's actions.

> But this conversation is about China.

I don't know. It seems kind of weird to want to restrict the conversation like that, but I guess I kind of see your point.

> Plus this redirection is similar to "Bob shot a guy 30 times." "Oh yeah? Bill punched a guy".

The way I saw it, the neighborhood is turning kind of bad. Someone comments "Bob shot a guy 30 times", and another adds "Bill punched a guy". Neither of these people have met Bob nor Bill and don't really care about them in particular, but their interest lies in the neighborhood as a whole.

It isn't so much about restricting as derailing.

To clarify, in China, one could get "disappeared" for the rest of his/her life, just because of befriending CCP's "enemies", or speaking up against the official rhetoric.

I don't think the two countries are even remotely comparable on this front.

China is definitely worse than America in that regard as far as we can tell, but lets not forget Guantanamo Bay and America taking suspects to be tortured overseas.

Why is the conversation to be focused exclusively on China, though? Maybe the correct lesson to be drawn from this is the creeping dangers of authoritarian power in any country. Maybe seeing the abuses of China together with those of the USA - and the other FIVE EYES countries, and elsewhere, will lead us to understand that we need to keep tight reins on all government. But forcing us to discuss only what China has done denies us the opportunity for such a conversation.

It all depends on what level of attention one is assuming. I like to imagine a situation where people can understand a world with multiple bad actors.

"But western countries do x [whataboutism]" is the standard Chinese propaganda response to everything too.

A big part of the 50-cent party's job [1] is to promote negative western news stories.

[1] https://www.wikiwand.com/en/50_Cent_Party

At some point when both nations disrespect peoples privacy rights at their borders, it becomes a repression version of the Overton window.

And it was successful. Half the comments are now about the West. And you have to scroll down to see any of the comments about China.

"Whataboutism" breaks the HN guidelines against shallow dismissals and calling names in arguments. This word is a lazy way of saying that comparables aren't relevant, and is invariably used to block information that others are trying to add.

In reality, comparables sometimes are and sometimes aren't relevant. You have to make that argument case by case for it to have any meaning. Invoking a generic word as if it magically decides the matter is just the sort of thing the HN guidelines ask commenters not to do.

To pick an example from another, hopefully distant enough, flamewar topic: if someone complains that dynamic programming languages have runtime errors and someone replies, "what about null pointer exceptions in $static-lang?", it's reasonable to argue about whether and how that is comparable. What's not reasonable is to exclaim "Whataboutism! The topic is errors in dynamic languages. Stop trying to change the subject." That amounts to "you can't say that because I spoke first", and that's not how conversation works. The question of what's relevant is an intimate part of the discussion itself. It's not something that whoever-spoke-first gets to control. Indeed, if anyone did control that, they would have the power to control the entire conversation. Past explanations for anybody who wants more:





This is not whataboutism since the article explicitly discusses the role of the Western countries setting an example:

"There is an increasing trend around the world to treat borders as law-free zones where authorities have the right to carry out whatever outrageous form of surveillance they want," Omanovic said. "But they’re not: the whole point of basic rights is that you’re entitled to them wherever you are. Western liberal democracies intent on implementing increasingly similar surveillance regimes at the border should look to what China is doing here and consider if this is really the model of security they want to be pursuing."

Can you explain what's wrong with whataboutism?

Other than being a logical fallacy it's also a race to the bottom in terms of what we (as a society) deem appropriate. "Oh what I did was wrong? Well what about that guy over there? Why aren't you judging him first?" The argument is usually in bad faith as if one problem can't be solved until we've dealt with everything else that's worse.

Sure, several things:

It is basically changing the topic when you have no effective rebuttal to an argument/issue.

It also creates a false equivalence between the real issue and the "whatabout" issue.

In this case, GP has no answer to China going FAR beyond any reasonable measure by requiring any tourist to install spyware on their phone so they can access all private conversations, so GP wants to ignore that and talk about public info the US requires visitors disclose at the border.

The false equivalence is created by treating as parallel and roughly equivalent govt actions the requirement to install spyware vs divulging of SocMed accts.

I'm NOT saying that divulging SocMed accts could be a definite threat to a variety of classes of people, especially journalists writing undercover. But even for that specific example, which is worse, enumerating your public SocMed accounts, or installing spyware on your phone, which will divulge far more? Not even in the same ballpark.

In sum, Whataboutism is not only damaging the conversation, it can often also be a method of disingenuous argument.

> Whataboutism (also known as whataboutery) is a variant of the tu quoque logical fallacy that attempts to discredit an opponent's position by charging them with hypocrisy without directly refuting or disproving their argument

Like GP said, it derails discussions into talking about a different bad actor than the actual one committing the bad behavior, while (intentional or not) minimizing said behavior. In short, just because the bad behavior exists elsewhere does not justify doing the bad behavior, or makes it any less bad, and the act of pointing it out can be a poor attempt at distraction from culpability.

The claim of "Whataboutism" is often used to try to prevent discussions of international affairs from dealing with the hypocrisy of one of the parties. "I can criticize you for X, but if you point out that I also do X, that's Whataboutism."

Source? My friend just came over from Germany and she walked in thru the border like she's a US citizen, no questions asked other than purpose of visit.

Also five eye governments collect most of the (open/covert) data that they want when you a) apply for visa and b) you check in.

So much about falling freedom of press in the US...

this is not true and there are plenty of comments below disproving this false assertion

Yes and that is a serious problem. Why don’t you submit a story and discuss it there, rather than perpetuate Whataboutism?

A wild whataboutism appears.

I downvoted you because this whataboutism is a distraction from the topic. We should fight back against the US policy too but it's clearly not the same thing.

I upvoted him because he adds a larger perspective to this issue.

Comments moved to https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20336920, since the guidelines call for original sources.


Edit: a user emailed to point out that this article is itself one of the original sources, because vice.com aka Motherboard was one of the investigating parties. That was my mistake! Sorry.


You started a religious flamewar. That's not welcome on HN, and we ban accounts that do it. Please stick to the site guidelines and don't do this again.


I am not going to apologize for challenging the status quo and having opinions of my own just because you threaten to ban me from an obscure tech news machine...

people like me are not going to go away no matter how deep your bury your head into the sand. We will be here waiting for you whenever you come up for air.

Nobody's trying to get you to go away! You just can't do religious flamewars on HN. That's not some novel use of authority, that's internet forum 101 all the way back to Usenet. It's particularly important for this site, where the mandate is intellectual curiosity. Battling enemies doesn't fit with that.


Islam is not "dangerous and pervasive".


I think the phrase you're looking for is "extremists have used $RELIGION to justify their actions throughout history, to the horror of most its practitioners". You can largely replace the specific religion with of an organized belief system of your choosing.

yes, please provide factual proof of how your statement is accurate when it comes to Buddhism?



Your comments are bordering on islamophobic (and that's from a charitable interpretation of your intent).

Just don't. HN isn't the platform for hate.


Religious flamewar will get you banned here. No more of this please.


India has serious issues with Hindu extremism against religious minorities, as does Myanmar for Buddhism.


> Islamophobia is a made up word designed specifically to silence criticisms of Islam without having to address them. No other religion has such a word or such protections.



What was that now?

I don't care if you have criticisms of Islam. But in the wake of the rise of stochastic terrorism especially among nationalist sentiments throughout the world, I do very much care about people echoing the same dog whistle arguments against Muslims on a thread where it's off topic.

Yes, it's possible to say the word "phobia" after any religion's name. That doesn't mean the term has any currency. Proof:


Hard to interpret your last part. Seems like you're saying you don't oppose criticisms of Islam, you just think nobody should be allowed to make those criticisms.

Yes, it's a bit off topic, I agree.

Religious flamewar is not ok here, so please don't go there.


It seems like a religion that draws leadership that looks to exploit it for political gain.

If you explore border and internal conflicts around the world today a depressingly large percentage of them list Muslims as combatants, sometimes on both sides. The only recent exception that comes to mind for me is the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Some of this is just due to the number of followers of the religion. When you have so many people they're bound to be caught up in fighting. But when those fighters use their religion as the casus belli for their conflict it's harder to ignore.

On the historical record, it's not especially more dangerous than Christianity.

Over a long history yes. In recent history there are significant differences in aggressiveness.

The same or worse can be said about any religion

This is true, but this doesn't invalidate the claim that Islam is pervasive (it's the second largest religion) and dangerous (like all religions).

I would recommend meeting an actual Muslim or reading less hysterical material about Islam. Even better perhaps, try reading about the history of Western imperialism in the middle East and a lot of the issues will suddenly become clearer.


There are a billion muslims on Earth, maybe you should focus on statistics and talking to people instead.

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