Team USA warns Olympic athletes about Chinese surveillance concerns at Beijing Games

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Team USA warns Olympic athletes to leave personal mobile devices at home in favor of BURNER phones due to Chinese surveillance concerns at Beijing Winter Games: ‘All data can be monitored’

In an apparent effort to thwart potential Chinese surveillance, Team USA and several other national Olympic squads are advising athletes to leave personal mobile devices at home in favor of ‘burner’ phones at the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.

‘Like computers, the data and applications on cell phones are subject to malicious intrusion, infection and data compromise,’ explains a technology bulletin distributed by Team USA. 

The advisory suggests that athletes, coaches and trainers use rental or disposable electronic devices while in Beijing, or at least wipe all personal data before and during the trip. Virtual private networks, which can reduce risks to users, are also recommended.

‘Despite any and all safeguards that are put in place to protect the systems and data that are brought to China, it should be assumed that all data and communications in China can be monitored, compromised or blocked,’ the bulletin states.

Jon Mason, a spokesperson for the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee, told USA Today that the organization has worked with the individual national governing bodies for each sport to determine the best strategy for the Winter Games, which begin February 4.

Games organizers are fighting the perception that athletes’ data is unsafe in Beijing. But instead of promising not to collect personal data, the committee simply said the information would not be misused.

‘The Chinese government attaches great importance to the protection of personal information,’ read a statement from the Beijing 2022 organizing committee.

‘Personal information collected by Beijing 2022 will not be disclosed unless the disclosure is necessary,’ the organizing committee said. ‘Information of accredited media representatives will only be used for purposes related to the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.’

Despite the organizing committee’s attempt to assuage fears, other national Olympic teams are also advising athletes to leave personal phones at home.

For instance, Dutch authorities came right out and said they are ‘anticipating Chinese surveillance during the Games.’

Meanwhile the Canadian Olympic Committee was more diplomatic in its warning to athletes, saying the Beijing Games ‘present a unique opportunity for cybercrime.’

‘[It is] recommended that [athletes] be extra diligent at Games, including considering leaving personal devices at home, limiting personal information stored on devices brought to the Games, and to practice good cyber-hygiene at all times.’

Spokespeople for the Australian and British Olympic Committees told USA Today that they issued similar warnings.

While the warnings may be new for athletes, they are commonplace in the US State Department.

‘Hotel rooms (including meeting rooms), offices, cars, taxis, telephones, Internet usage, digital payments, and fax machines may be monitored onsite or remotely, and personal possessions in hotel rooms, including computers, may be searched without your consent or knowledge,’ reads one State Department advisory.

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