Olympic athletes from several countries, including the United States, are being encouraged to leave their personal cellphones and laptops at home next month amid concerns over cybersurveillance during the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.
De Volkskrant first reported on Tuesday that the Dutch Olympic Committee “anticipates Chinese surveillance during the Games” and has therefore instructed athletes not to bring their personal electronic devices to Beijing.
Spokespersons for the British Olympic Association and the Australian Olympic Committee have since told The Guardian and The Age respectively that they have made similar recommendations to their athletes. And a technology bulletin distributed by Team USA states that rental/disposable computers and “burner phones” are “encouraged.”
“Like computers, the data and applications on mobile phones are subject to malicious intrusion, infection and data corruption,” said Team USA’s advisory.
FOLLOW US CHASE FOR GOLD: Sign up for our Olympic newsletter
THE STARS OF SKATING:Five things we learned from Nashville
US Olympic and Paralympic Committee spokesman Jon Mason added that the USOPC has been working with individual national governing bodies (NGBs) to determine the best course of action for each group. Every winter sport has an NGB who is responsible for its athletes.
Beijing 2022 organizers did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.
The Global Times, a newspaper of the ruling party in China, claimed in an op-ed that the position of the Netherlands Olympic Committee was an attempt to stir anti-China sentiment by suggesting that the government is spying on foreigners.
“The accusation is based on fake news, ignorance and the West’s own actions,” the state media wrote.
The technological guidance of national Olympic committees ahead of the Beijing Games is abnormal, but consistent with government recommendations for travelers visiting China.
For example, the US State Department writes in its travel advisory for China that “security personnel keep a close eye on foreign visitors.”
“Hotel rooms (including conference rooms), offices, cars, taxis, telephones, Internet usage, digital payments, and fax machines may be monitored locally or remotely, and personal belongings in hotel rooms, including computers, may be searched without your consent or knowledge,” is the advice of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Team USA’s technology advisory suggests Olympic participants use rental/disposable laptops and phones in China or, at the very least, wipe all personal data from the devices before arrival and on departure. The advisory also recommends using virtual private networks (VPNs).
“Despite all precautions taken to protect the systems and data brought into China, it should be assumed that all data and communications in China can be monitored, compromised or blocked,” the bulletin said.
Athletes will arrive in Beijing for the Games later this month. The opening ceremony is on February 4.