China is reportedly forcing tourists to install a secret surveillance app on their smartphones. It contains “text-stealing malware” that downloads text messages, phone logs, calendar entries and scans for “extremist files,” the report said.

A joint investigation by The Guardian, The New York Times, Motherboard, Süddeutsche Zeitung and German broadcaster NDR has revealed that the app is not limited to the local population. Tourists crossing into Xinjiang are “forced to install a piece of malware on their phones that gives all of their text messages as well as other pieces of data to the authorities,” the report added.

More about China’s secret surveillance app

China’s secret surveillance app is installed by the border security guard who physically seizes the phone. The app gives Chinese officials complete access to all the text messages of tourists. The authorities are reportedly cracking down on the local Muslim population with this spying app. Officials also scan the user smartphones for “Islamic extremist content” as well as for academic books and innocuous materials.

“(This app) provides yet another source of evidence showing how pervasive mass surveillance is being carried out in Xinjiang. We already know that Xinjiang residents — particularly Turkic Muslims — are subjected to around-the-clock and multidimensional surveillance in the region. What you’ve found goes beyond that: it suggests that even foreigners are subjected to such mass, and unlawful surveillance,” said Maya Wang, China senior researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Tourists and traders using the remote Irkeshtam border crossing are “routinely having their phones screened by guards,” The Guardian reports. At the crossing, travellers need to unlock their phone and hand over to the guards. A snooping app is installed on Android phones, whereas the highly-secure iPhones are plugged into a scanner.

China is even forcing local citizens to download spyware that restricts the information they can access. Police also checks for social media apps such as WhatsApp or Twitter. One man named Kasim, a Xinjiang native said: “If you (have) got Twitter or Facebook in your phone, you will be sentenced to 15 years in concentration camps.” Kasim told The Sun: “China doesn’t want you to know what’s happening outside of China, so they’ve built a firewall.”