Why the West is giving Beijing Winter Olympics athletes anti-cybersurveillance advice: here’s why

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The Chinese authorities promised at the end of the year that foreign athletes participating in the Winter Olympics that will take place next month in your country have unrestricted access to the Internet.

For it, the Beijing regime will open a ‘crack’ in the ‘Great Firewall’ that has been raising and reinforcing for 19 years to control digital communications within its borders, and that they have used to censor websites, search engines, social networks and apps that were not subject to censorship by their authorities.

China has opened these ‘cracks’ very rarely, usually for foreign correspondents covering major international summits. Now, they will do it again, as confirmed by the IOC, in the Olympic Village, competition venues and hotels for the press.

But nevertheless, “being able to speak freely” is not the same as “being able to speak in private”, and the authorities of several Western countries (such as the Netherlands, Belgium, the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia or Canada) have officially asked their athletes not to use their own mobile phones and computers when traveling to China.

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Don’t look but I think they’re following us

It is not that they want their athletes to become Luddites during their stay in the Asian giant, but resort to ‘clean’ devices (that is, released specifically for use during that trip), in order to safeguard your personal data. Such devices will be provided by their own National Olympic Committees.

And all this is relevant because it is about the first time in history in which the authorities transfer to their athletes an express recommendation of this nature.

In its official recommendations for traveling to China (not limited to participants in these Olympics), the US Department of State not only recommends using laptops and rental or disposable phones, but also wipe all personal data from devices prior to arrival and upon departure, as well as resorting to the use of virtual private networks (VPN):

“Security personnel carefully monitor foreign visitors […] telephones, internet usage and digital payments and fax machines may be monitored on-site or remotely, and personal possessions in hotel rooms, including computers, may be searched without your consent or knowledge.” .

“It must be assumed that all data and communications in China can be monitored, compromised or blocked“, they conclude. Or, as those responsible for the American Olympic team affirm:

“Like computers, data and applications on mobile phones are subject to malicious intrusion, infection, and possible data leakage.”

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Angeli Datt, a senior China researcher at the activist organization Freedom House, warns that “using the networks provided by Chinese organizers leaves visitors vulnerable to surveillance” and that the regime has been taking all kinds of measures against the use of China for 5 years. of VPNs.

You know what they say about habits…

The People’s Republic of China is a regime in which mass surveillance (further boosted by its leadership in the field of artificial intelligence) has an increasing role in the daily lives of its citizens, accustomed to sudden massive censorship of terms in the Chinese digital ecosystem (because they have their own social and messaging networks) or to initiatives such as the ‘social credit’ (a ‘card by points’ of good citizenship on which, for example, your access to public transport depends).

So many Western nations find it hard to believe that China will sincerely and voluntarily give up its surveillance in the face of the massive influx – albeit temporary – of foreign journalists and athletes, especially when it cares so much about preventing the spread of ‘non-predominant values’.

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