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Warrantless Phone Searches Allowed Under New Chinese National Security Regulations

On April 26th, China’s Ministry of State Security announced two law enforcement regulations which state that local law enforcement officers will be granted the power to inspect electronic devices. This means that, beginning on the implementation date of July 1st, tourists visiting China may have their phones or laptops checked by local officers. Customs officers in Shenzhen and Shanghai have already started randomly checking phones and laptops of incoming travelers.

The new “Administrative Law Enforcement Procedures” and “Criminal Case Procedures” regulations allow state security officers, with approval from superiors at the municipal level or above, to legally inspect individuals’ and organizations’ electronic devices, facilities, applications and tools. In emergencies, officers only need approval from municipal-level superiors to inspect someone’s devices on the spot after showing their police or investigator credentials.

A Ms. Jiang returning from Shenzhen told Radio Free Asia that she saw customs officers checking a female tourist’s phone at the border, asking if she had any other phones. Mr. Shao from Shanghai said he witnessed customs officers searching a man’s phone after returning from Japan recently.

A Chinese legal scholar Lu Chengyuan said the regulations aim to create an atmosphere of self-censorship and fear of contacting foreigners or using encrypted messaging apps like Signal, violating constitutional free speech rights. He criticized the decision to allow administrative law enforcement officers to search phones without first obtaining a judicial warrant, calling it a blatant violation of privacy rights.

Another scholar, Mr. Liu, said that extending the justification of national security into people’s everyday lives has created an omnipresent atmosphere of state security terror. The regulations lack clarity on what qualifies as an “emergency” allowing officers to search phones.

Source: Radio Free Asia, May 7, 2024