The Chinese government confirmed that it can access deleted WeChat conversations -- and people are terrified

PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images
  • Chinese authorities in one city accessed a person’s deleted WeChat messages, apparently without permission from the user or courts.
  • Anti-corruption officers used restoration technology to get back entirely deleted conversations.
  • Tencent, the maker of WeChat, denied storing or viewing user data.
  • But their claim makes little sense given that Chinese law now mandates internet companies keep network logs.
  • The system is part of preparation for China’s wide-ranging “social credit” system, which uses intense surveillance to dole out punishments and rewards.

Chinese authorities have acknowledged for the first time they’re able to access deleted WeChat messages without users’ permission.

Over the weekend a state anti-corruption body in Hefei, in the Anhui province, posted on WeChat that authorities in the nearby city of Chaohu had managed to access entire conversations that had been deleted.

The action appears to be have undertaken without any sort of warrant, and led to a confession.

“The Chaohu city discipline inspection and supervision commission retrieved a series of deleted WeChat chat histories from a suspect in March,” the Saturday post read, which was deleted the following day after it started going viral.

Tencent, the company that runs WeChat, has repeatedly denied that it snoops on user data. In a statement, they said that authorities didn’t use a WeChat backdoor, but rather harnessed technology that helps users restore their own deleted conversations.

“It is the same technology used to recover important files on computers,” Tencent’s statement said. “WeChat does not store any chat histories. They are stored only on users’ phones, computers or other devices.”

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There are numerous instances of the government appearing to have read private WeChat messages through some sort of back door, and the company tried to head off such criticism.

“We have neither the authority nor the motive to look into users’ chat histories,” the statement also said.

But that claim isn’t necessarily true.

Last year, China introduced a sweeping cybersecurity law, requiring internet companies to store all network logs for at least six months, and store all user data on servers located in China.

New regulations also urged social media companies to begin rating people with a credit system, deducting users’ points for disobeying regulations. But to be able to do so these companies would need to be able to see users’ posts.

In Australia, which has long been wary of security concerns related to Chinese technology company Huawei, the government recently banned defence officials from using WeChat.

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