Matt Bush, FISM News
U.S. Olympic athlete are being encouraged to leave their personal laptops and cell phones at home and bring burner phones in their place due to fear of Chinese cyber oversight. While it is common knowledge that China maintains cyber surveillance on its own citizens, Olympic officials have also voiced fears that the same surveillance techniques will also be used on Olympic athletes.
As first reported by USA Today, Team USA sent an advisory to Olympic athletes warning, “Like computers, the data and applications on cell phones are subject to malicious intrusion, infection and data compromise” adding that “burner phones were encouraged.” The organization added, “Despite any and all safeguards that are put in place to protect the systems and data that are brought to China, it should be assumed that all data and communications in China can be monitored, compromised or blocked.”
The U.S. State Department also issued a warning about traveling to China, describing the potential for large scale Chinese surveillance:
Security personnel carefully watch foreign visitors and may place you under surveillance. Hotel rooms (including meeting rooms), offices, cars, taxis, telephones, Internet usage, digital payments, and fax machines may be monitored onsite or remotely, and personal possessions in hotel rooms, including computers, may be searched without your consent or knowledge. Security personnel have been known to detain and deport U.S. citizens sending private electronic messages critical of the Chinese government.
Beijing’s Olympic Organizing Committee attempted to counter the claims in a statement. The statement, however, did little to assuage fears that the Chinese government would be conducting surveillance on citizens of other countries, as it acknowledged that information would be “collected,” then claiming any gathered info would not “disclosed”:
The Chinese government attaches great importance to the protection of personal information. Personal information collected by Beijing 2022 will not be disclosed unless the disclosure is necessary. Information of accredited media representatives will only be used for purposes related to the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.
Other countries sending athletes also gave similar warnings to their athletes in similar advisories:
- The Dutch Olympic Committee said it is “anticipating Chinese surveillance during the Games.”
- A British Olympic Association official stated, “We’ve given athletes and staff practical advice so that they can make their own choice as to whether they take their personal devices to the Games, or not. Where they do not want to take their own equipment, we have provisioned temporary devices for them to use.”
- The Australian Olympic Committee relayed, “We are taking all the appropriate cybersecurity measures in order to ensure we are protected from malware and viruses. The AOC is providing athletes with advice on minimizing risk.”
This report from the U.S. Olympic Committee about surveillance and malware comes shortly after a December decision by the Biden administration that no U.S. officials would attend the 2022 Winter Olympics due to a diplomatic boycott of the Games. China, in turn, declared that the U.S. will “pay the price” for the boycott.
Next month’s Olympic Games should be interesting both from an athletic and a geopolitical standpoint as tensions between China and the West continue to grow.
The opening ceremony for the Games is on Feb. 4. Athletes will begin arriving later this month.