NICOLE HAO | EPOCH TIMES

Chinese netizens recently reported that police have begun checking people’s smartphones with a special mobile device at subway stations and on the streets of Beijing and Shanghai.

Beijing police said that the tool is only for scanning people’s IDs, but netizens and experts who dug deeper have discovered that the product can extract personal data from smartphones without authorization from the smartphone owner.

Checkpoints

A Beijing netizen sent a video to the Chinese-language Epoch Times on June 17, which showed that Beijing police have set up a temporary checkpoint at the Dongzhimen Subway Station to check travelers’ smartphones.

“The police is checking everything on the phone,” the person shooting the video can be heard saying.

Ms. Cheng, a Shanghai dissident, also told U.S.-based broadcaster and sister media NTD that local police on the streets have also begun checking people’s phones.

Several netizens from Shanghai and Beijing told NTD that the police mainly check whether there are photos or videos about recent Hong Kong protests against a controversial extradition bill, a topic banned in mainland China. The police also look for whether people have installed virtual private network (VPN) and other apps that can allow users to bypass the Chinese firewall and access foreign websites that are banned inside China.

On June 21, the Beijing police department published a statement on its official Weibo account, denying netizens’ complaints that officers were accessing people’s smartphones.

In the statement, it said that the police did not take away people’s smartphones, but were using their “mobile police terminals” to check IDs.

Surveillance Tool

The statement also explained what the device does: “Police can use this ‘smartphone’ [mobile police terminal] to accomplish all types of police work. This device is the perfect embodiment of advanced police technology as well as applying big data.”

“Mobile police terminal” devices have proliferated in certain years. Many software developers tout their success at scoring government clients.

Since 2016, netizens have complained that after police checked their phones, an MFsocket app mysteriously appears on their phones. They are unable to uninstall it.

Recently, netizens again reported this phenomenon.

On June 25, Elliot Alderson, a New York-based cybersecurity engineer and vigilante hacker, published his research findings on the FM socket app on Medium.com.

Alderson found out: “[MFsocket] is asking a lot of dangerous permissions: – Read your call log, your contacts, your SMS, your calendar, your SD card – Disable the lock screen – Access your location – install a new app without your consent.”

“Moreover, we can see that the activity doesn’t have the category launcher which means that this app doesn’t have an icon,” Alderson wrote.

He concluded that the app was a surveillance tool.

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