Chinese university ‘rethinking’ checks on students’ electronic devices after privacy complaints

  • Guilin University of Electronic Technology had ordered that all mobile phones, computers and external disk drives on campus be inspected
  • It aimed to ‘stop the spread of content inciting violence, terrorism, harmful political information, pornographic and other content that corrupts thought’
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 November, 2018, 5:11pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 November, 2018, 11:06pm

A university in southern China says it is reconsidering a planned “inspection” of electronic devices on campus after a backlash from students and local media.

Guilin University of Electronic Technology had scheduled the checks on student and faculty devices on campus, from November 7 to 23, to be carried out by its Party and Administration Office.

But a university official surnamed Jiang told Shanghai-based news portal Thepaper.cn on Tuesday there had been no checks so far and the college was “rethinking the plan” because students had complained that it was an invasion of privacy.

“Recently, hostile forces both locally and abroad have been using the internet and mobile phones to spread forbidden and illegal videos,” the university said in a notice about the inspection posted on social media.

It said all faculty and student mobile phones, computers and external disk drives would be checked “to stop the spread of content inciting violence and terrorism, harmful political information, pornographic and other content that corrupts thought”.

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The notice also included a direction to “educate” staff and students to “be determined to never watch or listen to, download, copy or share videos that show separatist ideas, violence, terrorism, religious extremism, or other content that threatens national unity and social stability”.

Last year, the ruling Communist Party’s powerful Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) launched an inspection of 29 top Chinese universities to look for breaches of “political discipline”.

“[The inspection] could be related to the long-standing pressure from the CCDI to ensure greater so-called political discipline, censorship [and] self-censorship in universities,” said William Nee, a China researcher with Amnesty International.

Nee said he had never heard of universities inspecting electronics, but the last few years had seen tightening control over universities and academic freedom in China.

“You can see evidence for that in the way that they’ve limited foreign textbooks and events in which foreign delegations are present, and made regulations to have activities like a conference more stringent,” Nee said.

Beijing has also sought to quash a growing labour rights movement on Chinese campuses led by young Marxists. At least 16 activists – many of them recent graduates from China’s elite universities – are still missing after they were arrested over the weekend in four cities including Beijing and Shanghai.

They were part of the Jasic Workers Solidarity Group supporting workers attempting to unionise at Shenzhen-based Jasic Technology. Representatives of the workers at the welding machinery manufacturer have been sacked, beaten and detained, and a demonstration in August led to the arrest of 50 activists.

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“It goes without saying the university students giving solidarity to the Jasic workers adds a new dimension to the way universities around the country want to limit rising political consciousness and awareness of students,” Nee said.

The hashtag “university responds to checking electronics” is trending on Chinese social media site Weibo, with more than 40 million views.

“This is a clear invasion of privacy,” wrote one user on Weibo.

Another said: “I kept thinking this was Photoshopped when I first saw it. But from the looks of it, this will be the new normal so everyone should prepare for it.”