AMSTERDAM, BEIJING - Sports umbrella organizations NOC*NSF instructed Dutch athletes traveling to the Olympic Winter Games in China later this month to leave their phones and laptops at home. This is one precaution in the furthest reaching package of measures the NOC*NSF has ever taken against possible Chinese surveillance, the Volkskrant reports based on conversations with insiders.
When asked, NOC*NSF technical director Maurits Hendriks confirmed to the newspaper that they are taking various measures. The National Coordinator for Counterterrorism and Security (NCTV) and intelligence service AIVD briefed the NOC*NSF on the situation in China two months ago, Hendriks said. "That is normal. In that, we zoom in very closely on the security situation in a country, on the political context, but also cybersecurity."
Erik Ploegmakers of security company Zerocopter called the precaution "extremely sensible." According to him, China blocks the use of virtual private networks (VPN). "That means that you communicate directly over the Chinese government's infrastructure." He said that China could see and manipulate all internet traffic, including old messages, medical data, contacts, and photos.
The country is turning off the "great Chinese firewall" - internet censorship - for athletes to use social media like WhatsApp. "But that will certainly be monitored," Ploegmakers said. "The fact that they're taking the block off just makes it more suspicious."
United States media reported that during the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008, China obliged hotels to bug athletes, relatives, and journalists' hotel rooms.
The Netherlands has been destroying phones belonging to Dutch officials and diplomats who visited China upon their return for years.