China keeping a top-secret watchlist of US travelers — from celebs to everyday folksavril 7, 2021
A database shared with The Post has a spreadsheet listing the names, birth dates and passport numbers of 697 US citizens, some of them children, who were flagged while passing through Pudong International Airport in 2018 and 2020.
The list has executives from fields like finance, technology and biomedicine — including some from Apple, Microsoft, GE Healthcare, Pfizer and Merrill Lynch.
The name and birth date of Ashanti Shequoiya Douglas, the Grammy-winning R&B singer, was also on the list, which marked her as having traveled through the airport in August 2018. A rep for the star didn’t immediately comment.
A US State Department employee in the Bureau of International Organization Affairs appears to be on the list. Another is a documentarian and mom of two who splits her time between California and South Korea.
Many of the people on the spreadsheet were researchers or professors at US universities — including a high-ranking administrator at NYU Shanghai.
Security experts believe the documents — contained on Shanghai Public Security Bureau servers — provide a glimpse into Beijing’s massive data collection efforts targeting foreigners.
The database was leaked to Internet 2.0, an Australia-based cyber-security firm, which said the records give “an unprecedented view on how China is building its surveillance state with technology and how it leverages data as a means of control.”
“This system gives us insight into the ambitions of China to collect what it can, to impose its will within its jurisdiction and to violate norms of privacy and accountability,” co-CEOs Robert Potter and David Robertson said in a statement.
While governments, including the US, keep watchlists of suspected terrorists or of people accused of serious crimes, these records seem to show how China is collecting and storing data on everyday foreign visitors.
It is unclear why the Americans on the Chinese list were flagged while passing through an immigration checkpoint at the airport. Experts also aren’t sure whether the travelers were specifically selected to be included in the database, or just swept up in a broader surveillance exercise.
Several of the people appear to simply be tourists, including college students, and even children as young as 9.
Americans weren’t the only ones impacted. The identities of 161 Australian citizens, including a former intelligence chief, were also found in the database. Security officials there have obtained the data and are investigating, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported last week.
More than 100 British citizens, some of whom were government officials or business leaders, also were placed on the Chinese watchlist — and MI5 in investigating, too, according to the UK Telegraph.
In addition to the details of international visitors, the database also contains a blacklist of people monitored or questioned in Shanghai, many of them deemed “terrorists” — including thousands of Uighur Muslims, a minority group targeted by the Chinese Communist Party, Internet 2.0 found.
This shows “how China blurs the boundaries between law and order, counter-terrorism and political crimes,” the company said in a statement.
“Within this system there is limited restraint as all are collected on.”
Another component was feeds of dozens of cameras set up around Shanghai’s harbor, some with facial recognition and license plate readers tracking cars and people, according to the security experts.
Samantha Hoffman, a senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and an expert on Chinese surveillance, told ABC that she encountered similar public security databases in her research.
“I’ve seen evidence of the same system type being developed in other cities and provinces across China in a standardized way,” she told the outlet.
“Although this data is showing information from a limited time period, it shows how foreigners could get caught up in China’s surveillance state when they’ve passed through the country, even if that system isn’t fully established yet.”
She added: “It shouldn’t be a surprise to any foreigner visiting China that they might be tracked.”
Neither the Chinese Embassy in DC nor the US State Department immediately returned requests for comment from The Post.