Backlash hits university's plan to search student devices

China | 22 Nov 2018

A Chinese university's plan to conduct a blanket search of student and staff electronic devices has come under fire, illustrating the limits of the population's tolerance for surveillance and raising the prospect that tactics used on Muslim minorities may be creeping into the rest of the country.

The Guilin University of Electronic Technology is reconsidering a search of cellphones, computers, external hard disks and USB drives after a copy of the order leaked online and triggered such an intense backlash that it drew rare criticism in state-run newspapers.

Searches of electronics are common in Xinjiang, a heavily Muslim region that has been turned into a virtual police state to tamp down unrest.

They are unheard of in most other areas, including where the school is located in the southern Guangxi region.

"Xinjiang has emerged as China's surveillance laboratory," said James Leibold, a scholar of Chinese ethnic politics and national identity at La Trobe University in Australia. "It is unsurprising that some of the methods first pioneered in China's west are now being rolled out in other regions."

Under President Xi Jinping, the government has in recent years tried to tighten controls over what the public sees and says online and stepped up political oversight of universities.


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