WASHINGTON (AFP) — A top Republican US senator on Tuesday said China is planning to spy on guests who stay at foreign-owned hotels during the Olympic Games, which begin next month.
"The Chinese government has put in place a system to spy on and gather information about every guest at hotels where Olympic visitors are staying," Kansas Senator Sam Brownback told reporters.
"This means journalists, athletes' families, human rights advocates and other visitors will be subjected to invasive intelligence gathering by the Chinese Public Security Bureau."
The State Department issued a warning in March that Americans traveling to China for the Olympic Games could expect their hotel rooms there to be monitored.
China responded at the time that security arrangements were in accordance with international standards.
Brownback said he was first notified months ago by human rights advocates of Beijing's plan to monitor Internet use at foreign-owned hotels, and that "several international hotel chains" have confirmed receiving orders to install software and hardware to monitor Internet activity.
He declined to reveal the names of the hotels, saying they feared losing their licenses to operate in China and faced large fines if they did not comply with the Chinese order.
"They don't want to do this. They are being forced to do this," Brownback said. "If they are specifically identified, they could face retaliation by the Communist government."
The senator's staff handed out English language translations of two separate documents he said were received by hotels, outlining the government's instructions on how to implement Internet spying software and hardware by the end of July.
"It is required that your company install and run the Security Management System for Internet Access from Public Places in addition to provide network interfaces consistent with the industrial technical standards on public security," said one of the documents.
"Refusing the installment or stopping operation of the system after installment will be subject to punishment," it said, citing fines of 5,000 yuan (732 dollars) for an individual and 15,000 yuan (2,197 dollars) for an organization.
"In the case of serious violation, access to Internet will be suspended or business license will be cancelled," it said.
The policy was designed to "ensure the smooth opening" of the Olympics, as well as "promote the healthy and orderly development of the Internet, safeguard state security, maintain social order and protect public interests," the translation of the one of the documents read.
Brownback also distributed a copy of one hotel's privacy warning, which will appear as a pop-window to Internet users.
"We are pleased to offer you high speed Internet service from this hotel. However, before you choose to use this Internet service we wish to advise you that your communications and website activity are not private," it said.
"All of your activity using this service such as sending emails and accessing websites is required by local law enforcement authorities to be accessible to them and a system is in place to provide that access."
Brownback called on China to revoke its order, accusing the policy of being contrary to the "Olympic spirit," and said he would introduce a Senate resolution condemning China's move.
He also called the Chinese government "the greatest enabler of human rights abuses around the world."
The Chinese embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In March, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang branded as "irresponsible" a fact sheet issued by the US State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs warning of hotel room surveillance.
"In public places, hotels and office buildings in China, there are no special security arrangements exceeding what is normal internationally," he said in a statement.
"Privacy is protected by law in China, and foreign visitors don't need to worry. What the Bureau of Consular Affairs said in this respect in its fact sheet is irresponsible."
The State Department's warning, still posted on its website, says US citizens should "have no reasonable expectation of privacy in public or private locations."
The Olympic Summer Games will take place from August 8-24, followed by the Beijing Paralympic Summer Games 2008 from September 6-17.
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »