Chinese Police Are Buying Spyware — And Posting Their Purchase Orders Online

Screen capture of Wenzhou police's purchase order of Trojan spyware that targets at Android moble phone and jailbreak iphone.

Screen capture of Wenzhou police's purchase order of surveillance software tools that target mobile phones.

It is an open secret that Chinese authorities are spying on citizens’ online and mobile communication. Yet it is still eye-popping to see hard evidence of this practice.

On January 7, Beijing news outlet Beijing Times published a surveillance software purchase order, reportedly made by a local police department, on Weibo. Netizens now can see exactly what surveillance tools police are using, and exactly how much they paid for them.

Beijing Times found the purchase order on the website of the Wenzhou district police department, took a screen capture of the order, and posted it on social media with a brief explanation of its origins. The purchase order includes two items: software for injecting trojans onto mobile phones, and a trojan for spying on mobile phone conversations, text messages, and image messages on Android and for jail breaking an iPhone. The first item cost RMB 100,000 yuan (approximately US $16,000) and the second item costed RMB 49,000 yuan (approximately US $8000).

As the news spread, the purchase order page was removed from the police department website. But netizens started digging into other local government websites’ purchase order pages. Twitter user @beidaijin found two other local governments spending tax payer money on surveillance of social media and channelling public opinion:

The first image is the purchase order of the sub-branch of public security bureau in Wenzhou Economic and Technology Development Zone. The second image is the purchase order of Tianjin government. The third image is the purchase order of Taian city government.

The item purchased by the Tianjin government is a software tool that collects messages from overseas social media including Twitter, Facebook and Google plus. Authorities in Taian city purchased data collection software and content posting software intended to help “counter public opinion” on nine major social media platforms, both in China and overseas.

By doing a simple search on file type and using search terms “Twitter”, “information”, and “purchase”, @beidaijin found that at least a dozen other local governments have also purchased social media surveillance software:

Search term “filetype:doc site:.gov.cn twitter information purchase”. As shown in the screen capture, governments of Taian, Qidong, Shandong, Hulunbuir, Ordos City, Nanjing, Nanning, Hefei, Changzhou, Qingyuan, Yancheng, Tianjin and etc. have posted purchase order of surveillance softwares that target at monitoring major overseas social media.

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