China’s mobile network: a big brother surveillance tool?

DAVOS, Switzerland, Jan 27, 2008 (AFP) – Serious concerns were raised in Davos last week about the ability of the Chinese government to spy on the country’s 500 million mobile phone users. The head of China’s biggest mobile phone company, which has more than 300 million subscribers, stunned delegates by revealing that the company had unlimited access to the personal data of its customers and handed it over to Chinese security officials when demanded.

The admission, described as “bone-chilling” by US Congressman Ed Markey, sent shivers through an audience of telecom experts at the World Economic Forum who immediately saw the potential for misuse and surveillance.

“We know who you are, but also where you are,” said the CEO of China Mobile Communications Corporation, Wang Jianzhou, whose company adds six million new customers to its network each month and is already the biggest mobile group in the world by users.

He was explaining how the company could use the personal data of its customers to sell advertising and services to them based on knowledge of where they were and what they were doing.

When pressed about the privacy and security implications of this, he added: “We c