The Chinese Government’s controversial decision to disallow civil nominations for Hong Kong’s government has been the focal point of recent protests in the region. Allegations of their involvement in a recent iCloud-based man-in-the middle attack have exacerbated the situation, and technology has played a central role throughout the course of this conflict.
When Chinese Prime Minister Zhao Ziyang signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1997, the PRC officially resumed sovereignty over Hong Kong. With this declaration China agreed to preserve the region’s capitalist economy and democratic government for a minimum of 50 years. The Joint Declaration stipulates that the government will be composed of local inhabitants elected by the citizens of Hong Kong.
The head of Hong Kong’s government is known as the Chief Executive, a title created by the Chinese government to replace the title that was employed under Britain’s governance. When the sovereignty changed hands, China agreed to run the country under the ‘one country, two systems’ principle under which Hong Kong would have “a high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defense affairs.”
The Chinese government also promised to facilitate democratic elections for the position of Chief Executive before the year 2017. The PRC Government has since gone back on its word following their decision this past month to implement a nominating committee in place of a direct election. Where Hong Kong’s citizens expected to participate in a democratic selection process, their choices have been reduced to a list of a few candidates selected by a government-appointed committee. Naturally, this controversial decision made the city of Hong Kong ground zero for a massive conflict with protests following almost immediately after.
This unfortunate conflict has been the impetus for some interesting innovation, primarily surrounding cell-phone communication. The app FireChat takes advantage of the small bluetooth radios in modern smartphones to enable users to circumvent the necessity of a cellular network or internet connection. FireChat has risen to popularity immediately following the onset of the Hong Kong protests where tech-savvy demonstrators might need a way to communicate should cell-phone networks get shut down. By connecting smartphones directly to one another using bluetooth, they are also able to work around issues related to cellular data bandwidth.
While it would be an extreme form of censorship for the Chinese government to shut down Hong Kong’s cell phone network, it would not be a major surprise considering recent allegations. GreatFire, a group monitoring censorship in China, maintains that the Chinese government has been wiretapping Apple’s iCloud. According to GreatFire, the government has been intercepting users attempting to connect to iCloud using a fake digital certificate. When users type their login information into the fake certificate, they are intercepted and their information is logged by the PRC government. This is known as a ‘man-in-the-middle’ attack, and it is suspected to be connected to the spread of media related to the Hong Kong protests.
If the PRC Government continues on this course of action, it will be interesting to see the way Hong Kong’s protestors coordinate their cause. Apps like FireChat provide alternative avenues of communication that the PRC Government will not be able to regulate. To learn more about FireChat, click here.
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