Beijing Public Wifi Surveillance Software May Be Illegal

Global Times reports a new development in the deployment of network monitoring software, at business owners’ expense, on public wifi networks in Beijing’s Dongcheng district: the software’s developers may not be legally qualified to participate in the scheme.

Shanghai Rainsoft Company, which won the bid, is in the category of companies that are Hong Kong, Macao or Taiwan-invested, which are treated as overseas companies, according to the official website of the Shanghai Administration for Industry and Commerce.

Regulations of the National Administration for the Protection of State Secrets state that this sort of company can’t get involved in controlling classified private networks for reasons of security.

“[Why] let a overseas invested enterprise safeguard online security in Beijing?” A sharp-eyed sina.com microblogger questioned the official microblog of the Beijing police. Beijing police has yet to reply.

Rainsoft Company declined to answer questions. “Our leaders are all abroad and can’t talk to the press,” a receptionist at the company’s Shanghai headquarters said over the phone.

“We also don’t have a public relations office, because our business is classified,” she said.

At China Hearsay, Stan Abrams notes that the state media’s initial criticism of the police scheme had already suggested something “a bit hinky”:

Now, we don’t know yet where this company is actually from. Registration in Hong Kong, Macao or Taiwan could mean a lot of different things, although I would bet a good chunk of change that this firm is a Chinese-owned, round-tripping situation. This is where a Chinese national will take money offshore, incorporate somewhere like Hong Kong, and then use that vehicle to reinvest back to China. There are many reasons for doing this, particularly if you have foreign partners.

But that’s all speculation at this point. What’s more certain is that the folks in charge of this debacle, who were already facing a whole lot of criticism a couple days ago, have a whole new problem, and it might be a big one. If they broke bidding rules, one has to wonder why.

Global Times has criticised the use of foreign technology in sensitive contexts before, responding to Western criticism of Cisco’s participation in the “Peaceful Chongqing” surveillance system.