The problem of soldiers leaking secrets is not one that tends to discriminate – even the most hardened militaries around the world have been battling with it in recent years. In the United States, perhaps the most famous case was that of Edward Snowden – the NSA analyst who leaked countless documents about spying and other invasive programs to the press, causing a ripple effect across the country over the last several years.

It seems that the People’s Liberation Army and the Chinese military have been battling similar issues, though they’ve developed a unique solution. The Chinese military has created a piece of “smartphone surveillance” software that sends an automatic alert when soldiers leak sensitive data or use their smartphones in any way during blackout periods.

The Chinese Military and Spying: What’s Happening?

The software, developed internally by the Chinese military, is unique in that it can be installed and uninstalled remotely. Once on a device, it gives operators an incredibly broad set of powers: They can ban access to specific websites, create restrictions on communication hours that automatically enable and disable themselves, and can even screen for sensitive words.

Representatives from the Chinese military told the People’s Liberation Army Daily (the official newspaper of the Chinese armed services) that the program was introduced by the PLA Rocket Force to “better regulate smartphone use among soldiers.”

Once a set of rules have been created, the software will automatically alert relevant authorities if ANY violations of Internet use are detected. Officials can then determine the extent of the violation and can take any actions they deem appropriate moving forward.

Though the software is still technically in the testing phases, it is capable of not only tracking the telephone number of each user but the model of smartphone they’re using, too. It’s important to note that these types of restrictions on smartphones have been a major complaint among Chinese soldiers over the last few years. This new software will obviously do very little to curb those problems.
Representatives from the PLA said that the software is intended to “create a safe space for soldiers to surf the Internet.” It’s clear that this is an idea that is very much up for debate moving forward.

Unanswered Questions

As stated, the software is still in the testing phases. It is unclear when it will roll out to the larger Chinese military, or how many soldiers have currently had the software installed on their devices to date. Also unclear are the potential ramifications of a violation – obviously attempting to access a blocked website would have consequences that are a bit different from leaking data about troop movements or other highly classified details.
Also unclear is just what prompted the development and deployment of a technology this invasive in the first place. Was the problem of soldiers leaking secrets that bad among Chinese military officials that such a bold step had to be taken, or is this something of a precaution as smartphones become an essential part of our daily lives?

When you consider the fact that restrictions on the widespread use of smartphones have been a major cause for concern among soldiers in the past, it’s easy to see how this could possibly create a “happy medium” for everyone involved. If used properly and judiciously, this could legitimately keep confidential information away from prying eyes and allow users to embrace technology without the fear of a widespread ban on mobile devices in the future.

However, as the platform seems to collect all information sent over a smartphone connection, and considering the fact that it can be installed and deployed remotely, it definitely raises privacy concerns at the same time. Exactly how this program continues to develop, and any potential challenges that it unexpectedly creates, remains to be seen at this time.