Police in China has received empowerment from the ruling Chinese Communist Party, to legally spy on over 720 million internet users in the country.
The authorities now have an express right to access a person’s social media contacts in order to prove links to crime.
According to a report from Radio Free Asia, China’s Ministry of Public Security made this statement on its official website: “From Oct. 1, Chinese police will have the right to use information about a person’s social media contacts list, including friends circles on popular smartphone chat apps, as evidence in criminal investigations.
“Police will have the power to monitor and include data from web pages, blog posts and tweets, social media friends and groups, and cloud storage services when investigating crimes, according to the regulations, signed by the Supreme People’s Court in Beijing.”
The information adds that text messaging, e-mails, instant messages and group chats will also be accessible by the authorities during criminal investigations.
In addition, all computer codes, audio, video and picture files and digital certificates are not excluded in the government’s recent ruling.
“The People’s courts, People’s procuratorates and public security organs shall have the right to collect or obtain electronic data from individuals and work units, which must provide truthful information,” the order said.
According to a Beijing-based legal practitioner named Chen Jiangang, the police has always used phone records and related personal information during criminal investigations. The recent law is only aimed at legitimizing the process.
The human rights lawyer admits that spying on phones and monitoring of online communications between internet users is a violation of individual privacy, adding that the Chinese government denies its citizens of such rights.
In his words: “Social media posts and chat messages are personal and private communications, but there is no right to privacy for Chinese people.
“[With the recent regulations, Chen added that] police have now been given the green light for blanket monitoring of people’s private lives in digital form.
“There are no checks and balances on official power, and they get to do anything they like,” he said. “Basically there are no human rights, nor any privacy, in this part of the world.”
“All these rules are doing is making that extremely clear.”
Another online activist named Wu Bin, also known by his internet nickname Xiucai Jianghu, reacted with a satirical comment via Twitter: “You have the right to remain silent, but all of your friend circles and tweets may be taken down and used in evidence against you.”
In Wu Bin’s opinion, the government is using this law to gag citizens and human rights bodies from criticizing the authorities. He spoke with RFA in an interview on Friday, saying: “In our country where we have the rule of individuals rather than of law, people are getting more and more worried about what they say, rather than what they do.
“This is because there are now so many people criticizing [the government] that they are having trouble keeping tabs on it.
“They can’t stem the flow easily, so they are trying to frighten people, and make them feel threatened,” Wu said. “It’s another form of control on free speech.”
“These rules are sending out a very clear message: don’t go criticizing the government any more.”
China has gone further in its internet censorship as authorities are now arresting people for unverified news circulation, especially using social media apps. Rumor-mongering is seen as a crime.
Recently, some activists in Mainland China were detained and charged for posting and re-tweeting a rumor on a politically-sensitive topic.
With the recent trend of events in down town China, Americans who use Wechat–the popular text and voice messaging app owned by China-based firm Tencent, are getting suspicious that there may also be a form of privacy violation attached.
There are rumors that Wechat may be serving as another instrument of industrial espionage, according to U.S. technical experts. However, the company has denied that the chat app has any links with the Chinese government on surveillance.
According to Eva Galperin, an expert on malware and Chinese platforms at the Electronic Frontier Foundation: “The use of WeChat by Americans to communicate information that might be of interest to the Chinese government, including but not limited to military and trade secrets, is potentially problematic.”