Headed for Olympics? Beware of Big Brother

Olympics attendees should expect to be bugged and searched, U.S. says.


March 20, 2008 — -- If you're planning on attending this summer's Olympic Games in Beijing, expect your hotel room to be bugged and searched while you're not there.

That's one of the warnings in a new fact sheet on the 2008 Olympics issued today by the U.S. State Department to Americans who intend to go to the games that are being hosted by the Chinese government.

"All visitors should be aware that they have no reasonable expectation of privacy in public or private locations," the fact sheet says. "All hotel rooms and offices are considered to be subject to on-site or remote technical monitoring at all times. Hotel rooms, residences and offices may be accessed at any time without the occupant's consent or knowledge."

This is similar to advice that U.S. officials visiting China follow. The U.S. military has been increasingly worried about Chinese electronic surveillance capabilities.

ABC News was granted exclusive access to the head of the U.S. Pacific Command, Adm. Timothy Keating, as he met with top Chinese military leaders in January. Keating told ABC News' Jonathan Karl that even his staff members leave their electronic devices behind for fear that the Chinese could hack into them.

"It's our assessment that the Chinese have the capability to penetrate our electronic systems. We would rather they not do that," Keating said.

The State Department's fact sheet also warns that Americans may not be able to access certain portions of the U.S. Embassy's Web site while within China, a sign of China's growing ability to restrict Internet access to sites it sees as challenges to its rule.

Americans traveling in China are encouraged to register first with the U.S. embassy through its Web site. However, according to the fact sheet, "Since this registration system site is not always available from within China, registering before you leave home is highly recommended."

The State Department says that the terror threat for the Games is low but cites recent violence in Tibet and a purported attempt to blow up a passenger plane in China earlier this month as "good examples of how potentially dangerous events can occur in the run-up to the Olympics."

The State Department says that there is no evidence to suggest that Americans will be targets of violence during the games.

Some activists have sought to tie the Beijing Olympics to the genocide in Darfur because of China's cozy trade relationship with the Sudanese government. Some groups hope to use the global spotlight cast by the games to highlight these and other human rights issues in China.

If any Americans are planning on protesting, however, the State Department's fact sheet has some advice as well. Though other warnings in the fact sheet do not mince words, the State Department refers diplomatically to China's heavy-handed police control of political dissent.

"The threat level for political violence also remains low. In most major metropolitan areas, the Chinese authorities employ an overwhelming police/security presence to ensure that demonstrations remain peaceful. Protestors must receive an official permit from municipal authorities before being allowed to gather," the fact sheet says, without referring to any specific issues.

The fact sheet also contains a warning for dual U.S.-Chinese citizens who use their Chinese passports to enter the country.

"If you are a dual American-Chinese citizen and are arrested or detained in China, the choice you made on which passport to use in entering China will be very important," the fact sheet says. "U.S. Embassy and Consulate officials are often denied access to arrested or detained Americans who do not enter China using their U.S. passport."

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