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China Security IT Politics

If You're a Foreigner Using GPS In China, You Could Be a Spy 219

Posted by timothy
from the just-want-to-know-where-I-am dept.
tedlistens writes "China has accused Coca Cola of espionage for its 'illegal mapping,' allegedly with the use of GPS 'devices with ultra high sensitivity.' On its face the case looks like yet another example of China's aggressive sensitivity about its maps, no doubt heightened by its ongoing fracas with the U.S. over cyberwar. Li Pengde, deputy director of the National Administration of Surveying, Mapping and Geoinformation, said during a radio interview on Tuesday that the Coca Cola case was only one of 21 similar cases involving companies using GPS devices in Yunnan to 'illegally obtain classified information.' According to Chinese authorities, geographical data can be used by guided missiles to strike key military facilities — a concern that one GPS expert says is overblown at a time when the U.S. government already has high-precision satellite maps of China. Nevertheless, Chinese law dictates that foreigners, be they companies or individuals, are prohibited from using highly-sensitive GPS equipment in China."
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If You're a Foreigner Using GPS In China, You Could Be a Spy

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  • Bad idea? (Score:5, Funny)

    by enigma32 (128601) on Friday March 15, 2013 @07:48PM (#43187461)

    Maybe they shouldn't have Coca-Cola deliver refreshments to their secret military installations? ;)

    • by Immerman (2627577) on Friday March 15, 2013 @09:22PM (#43187961)

      Heh.

      Actually seems like it could be a semi-legitimate complaint to me. Realistically what applications are there for a high-precision GPS outside of geological/territorial surveys and military intelligence? Sure we've got the satellite maps, but one of the nice things about those maps is the ability for someone with a GPS on the ground to make "X is here" annotations for important locations. For military purposes the ability to know within a few feet/yards where a strategic "soft spot" is could prove very valuable in terms of, say, disrupting infrastructure with a minimum of the sort of civilian collateral damage which could be used to sway international opinion against you.

      • by tragedy (27079) on Friday March 15, 2013 @10:13PM (#43188193)

        Realistically what applications are there for a high-precision GPS outside of geological/territorial surveys and military intelligence?

        Ooh, ooh, teacher, teacher! I know this one! It's knowing which freaking road you're on when there are several close together.

        Seriously, what kind of question is that?

        • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

          High precision is talking about sub 10m accuracy. You don't need that for sat nav, even at junctions. The reason is that although absolute position is only good to within say 10m velocity is extremely good, so you can tell if the user drifted a few metres on to the exit road or not.

        • Realistically what applications are there for a high-precision GPS outside of geological/territorial surveys and military intelligence?

          Ooh, ooh, teacher, teacher! I know this one! It's knowing which freaking road you're on when there are several close together.

          Depending on how close they are, un-augmented civilian grade GPS may or may not be up to the task. Pretty much all GPS navigators (handheld or dash mounted) are either augmented (with WAAS or it's EU equivalent, or with Assisted GPS) or they 'cheat'

          • by tragedy (27079)

            That being said, even civilian grade GPS is good enough to create a control point to update satellite based maps. There's not a doubt in my mind that the CIA has been doing so globally, using small (possibly military grade) handhelds to mark important points and then using that information to update more conventional maps. (Maps aren't just pretty pictures... there's a lot of data stored on them, but you need an accurate reference point to build the map around.)

            Or they could just use their billions of dollars worth of satellites to do the same thing with even more precision or accuracy.

      • by hedwards (940851) on Friday March 15, 2013 @10:43PM (#43188329)

        You think that satellites can't do that? This is just about appearances, nothing more, or they just wanted access to those phones for industrial espionage reasons.

        This is about as legitimate as banning hunting rifles because they could shoot down military planes. I'm sure it's technically possible to get lucky, but it's rather unlikely that somebody is going to be able to hit something going that fast that far up on purpose.

        • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

          The Taliban consider the sniper rifle to be an effective anti-drone weapon.

          • by hedwards (940851)

            Drones aren't planes, they're designed to go low and slow and be expendible. If planes were typically going that low and that slow, the military would be more concerned with it. Plus, you're a fool if you think the typical hunting rifle is comparable with a sniper's rifle.

            • Plus, you're a fool if you think the typical hunting rifle is comparable with a sniper's rifle.

              You'd be more correct if you replaced "typical hunting rifle" with "typical hunter" and "a sniper's rifle" with "a sniper".

      • by richlv (778496)

        osm.org ?
        it's not a legitimate complaint, it's a crazy totalitarian idea.

      • Okay, don't coke machines have sensors to determine how full they are, and they can phone home to alert a technician that the machine needs to be emptied of money and refilled?

        In this case, knowing the precise location of a machine could be very useful.

        Also quite useful if someone moves the machine.

        • by Immerman (2627577)

          I don't see it. The guy who refills the machine already knows *exactly* where it is. A GPS won't pinpoint it's position any better than "Machine 2384756 needs refilling".

          I could see GPS being useful for tracking a stolen machine, but that shouldn't take much precision. And really how big of a problem is that in China? A little alarm that starts screaming if the machine is jostled more than X amount without being in "transportation mode" would probably be far more effective anyway.

      • by MBGMorden (803437)

        Actually seems like it could be a semi-legitimate complaint to me. Realistically what applications are there for a high-precision GPS outside of geological/territorial surveys and military intelligence?

        Is it just me or is it getting really scary that people are starting to think this way?

        Be it GPS, guns, encryption, or 64oz sodas, there seems to be a growing and vocal faction of people that think that if someone can show some defined "need" to have something then they shouldn't be able to have it.

        The presence of tools should NEVER be interpreted as intention to commit a crime.

        • by Immerman (2627577)

          In the US or other country where the government claims to represent the will of the people, sure, no argument. But we're talking about China - they're a half step from a dictatorship and make no bones about it, and I would be *very* surprised if any dictatorship didn't object to it's citizens possessing tactically valuable tools, much less foreign nationals from countries with which they're slowly engaging in an early-stage Cold War.

          Hmm, looking at that last sentence I think it also sums up why I'm extreme

    • by bryan1945 (301828)

      Bloomberg in New York City is way ahead of you.

  • We should charge China with spying using all those GPS units they send here, not counting the cell phones that also have a GPS chip. Embargo all of them.
  • by Hartree (191324) on Friday March 15, 2013 @08:19PM (#43187631)

    Coke got sensitive classified military information that their delivery vehicle that was three hours late was sitting in the parking lot of a local bar all that time.

    (The corollary is that the driver they fired was a son of a local party official. Bad idea.)

  • so people from the outside of china can't take there cell phone with GPS to china??

    • by Shavano (2541114)

      Not unless you want the Chinese government to use it to track you wherever you go and aren't worried about them taking all of your private information and your passwords into corporate accounts and putting malware on it that will open a back door when you hook it back into your network when you get home.

      These days, tech companies send their employees to China with scrubbed laptops and burn phones for this reason. Then they scrub them again as soon as they get home.

      • by sdsucks (1161899)

        These days, tech companies send their employees to China with scrubbed laptops and burn phones for this reason. Then they scrub them again as soon as they get home.

        The sad part is how long that took to become the norm.

        I was recommending this long ago, and only in the last year or two has it become commonplace. Of course, I do the same thing when I travel to the US - except then I don't even bother copying my legally purchased mp3's as I know there is a good chance I'll get harassed about them.

        • by Shavano (2541114)

          These days, tech companies send their employees to China with scrubbed laptops and burn phones for this reason. Then they scrub them again as soon as they get home.

          The sad part is how long that took to become the norm.

          I was recommending this long ago, and only in the last year or two has it become commonplace. Of course, I do the same thing when I travel to the US - except then I don't even bother copying my legally purchased mp3's as I know there is a good chance I'll get harassed about them.

          That might be a good idea too, but unless the stories about China are wildly overblown, the extent of US spying on travelers is a great deal less than that of China.

  • by imidan (559239) on Friday March 15, 2013 @08:32PM (#43187709)

    If you do a lot of travelling, you will find that GPS laws are different everywhere. Many countries won't even allow you to bring one across the border. Defense against enemies obtaining high quality maps is usually the reasoning. Sometimes, you can bribe a customs guy to let you bring it in. But you shouldn't be flaunting GPS when you're visiting a place like that. I think China should be more free, but I can't get too upset when they enforce their existing laws against visitors who break them, even when the laws are out of date or seem silly.

    • If you do a lot of travelling, you will find that GPS laws are different everywhere.

      This has nothing to do with GPS. After the US accused China of cyber attacks, it just retaliated against the biggest US conglomerates they could go after.

      China did something similar to Carrefour [forbes.com] after the French President officially received the Dali Lama. Of course, everybody knows that Carrefour had nothing to do with the Dali Lama's visit, but that wasn't the point. The point was to put the French chain store under siege everywhere it was located in China, so that the French corporation and the related F

      • by imidan (559239)

        Okay, so that's a nice, broad, political view of the situation. I appreciate that. Maybe this crackdown is related. It's also true that sometimes, other countries take a harder line on laws they haven't before, in order to exert diplomatic pressure. Maybe it's bullshit to you that China is now enforcing their laws.

        In the meantime, take your GPS into Tunisia and let me know how that goes. I won't visit you in Tunisian prison.

        US companies expect retaliation for trade disagreements. The mechanics of thos

        • In the meantime, take your GPS into Tunisia and let me know how that goes. I won't visit you in Tunisian prison.

          Oh yes of course, I'm not disputing that those laws exist, or that they're enforced on individuals on a regular basis. And even thought, I sounded quite certain in my allegations, I'm only just 90% certain that it is some kind of official retaliation, and not some kind of corrupt official looking for bribe money, or some tin-foil hat wearing official going off on a personal crusade against gps units.

          Those multinationals have planned for the consequences, and we shouldn't cry for them.

          I don't think anyone is crying for them.

          And yes, part of such a contingency plan for US conglomerates could a

  • ...I've got Apple Maps. Even if I geotagged one of your military sites, I'm just as likely to inadvertently order a missile strike on the Superdome.
  • One Two Three (Score:5, Informative)

    by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Friday March 15, 2013 @09:02PM (#43187859)

    This makes me think of the classic 1953 Billy Wilder comedy involving a Coca-Cola executive going to East Berlin to open up the iron curtain for Coke products.

    Hilarious in a dated sort of way. Tremendous pacing, starring James Cagney.

    A great way to pick up mid-century American culture.

  • by VocationalZero (1306233) on Friday March 15, 2013 @09:04PM (#43187873) Journal
    I entered this story under the pretense that I too could become a spy.

    Posted from China, Texas.

  • by Zadaz (950521) on Friday March 15, 2013 @09:10PM (#43187901)

    If it really is GPS then it's simply the local time, broadcast in the clear. How is that classified?

    • by Hadlock (143607)

      Ground truth does not always equal what is said on a map. It's hard to read the signs that say "one way" from a satellite photo. It's also a lot easier for someone to come back to america, look at their GPS track and say "yep, there's definitely an entrance to an underground bunker here on this street" etc etc.Beijing is riddled with nuclear bunkers with entrances on to public streets, but they're poorly documented in english. Also, government mapping agencies tend to "forget" to put things on maps. BT towe

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        It's hard to read the signs that say "one way" from a satellite photo.

        That used to be true, but now that they can reasonably shoot oblique due to improvements in adaptive optics, it's not so true.

  • *Yawn* (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Greyfox (87712)
    We've mapped every inch of your country with satellites already. Get over it.
    • by tftp (111690)

      Satellite maps have no accurate references to coordinates. The satellite knows where it is, and it knows where it points the camera to, but the error is too large from hundreds of miles away. You can see a lamppost, but you don't know its exact coordinates. The nearest lamppost that you do know coordinates of is not in this photo.

      This is why you need to take the satellite photo and then send someone who will stand by that specific lamppost, look at his GPS and write: "This is xx.xxx North and yy.yyy East

    • by MrL0G1C (867445)

      This.

      And every modern phone has GPS in it and many of those will 'geo-tag' by default when taking snaps.

      And they're only applying the law to foreigners, so stop being such stupid racist paranoid fucks Chinese Govt.

    • by Clsid (564627)

      It's just a law they have. Why do you feel the need to break laws of foreign countries because they don't adapt to your point of view?

  • Of course, nobody would use Google satellite maps or anything.
  • That is what they are doing to the west. They do not want the same thing to happen to them.
  • The planet was here before people were, If an area is to be classified, prevent unauthorized people from gaining access to the area. Does the use of recconasence satellites violate international treaties?
  • China mapping (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Stiletto (12066) on Friday March 15, 2013 @11:09PM (#43188457)

    As someone who works for a company that does significant mapping business in China, I'm getting a kick out of these replies. It's funny how sensitive they are to GIS information and maps. The Chinese government has these silly rules about all maps having to show China's borders the way they imagine them to be, and you have to show certain islands and other sensitive areas as exaggerated in size. As long as you comply with their fairy tale, there's no problem. The GPS stuff is probably related. Anything that has the potential to show reality rather than the make-believe world is verboten.

  • by sdsucks (1161899) on Friday March 15, 2013 @11:46PM (#43188581)

    I've used GPS receivers many times in China, and even has friendly discussions with airport security about some of them. Never had any problem.

    That said, I've also been followed during many (most?) of my trips to China, and for some reason they are always doing air duct work just before I get into my hotel rooms...

    • by Clsid (564627)

      Really? You have drink so much of the anti-China news cool aid that even when you visit China you feel like you are being followed. Lol.

      From the expat community I know here in China, there was only one incident once with a woman that worked for the US nuclear commission, and all they did was make it very obvious she had security guards following her everywhere. Chinese are not too refined when they do their job, a couple of months in China will teach you that very quickly.

  • where in the name of national security your mineral water gets taken away from you at the airport which is making about the same sense.
  • Is Google Earth crippled, while your "mapping" or displaying China?

    OK, so you'd have to use GE -outside- China...

  • Satellite images may tell you there is a building, but a man on the street with a GPS can tell you exactly what the building is for, and who is going in and out of it.
    • by Clsid (564627)

      And the main point they have is that it is their country and their laws. When you are in somebody's house you should respect the owner's rules. It is polite to say the least.

  • I can only see one issue with high accuracy mapping of roads, it could be used as "ground control" for aerial photography. When you're flying aerial photography it is often highly desirable to have a number of "aerial visible" locations (often large white painted arrows) with high accuracy GPS coordinates distributed through the capture area. That way the images can be rubber sheeted using some pretty fancy algorithms to these points so you take an image with OK accuracy and turn it into one with high acc

  • We don't already have high resolution satellite based photos of most of the cities in China. We just don't know the NAMES of the streets. Besides, we don't need to know the names. We only need to know how they relate to one another and what interesting things run along side them.
  • Many countries consider the possession of GPS capable devices as a priori evidence that the possessor is a spy, and are likely to treat you as such. When I was working in the oilfields of Siberia (between the missile bases of Siberia) in the mid-2000s, this was well known. If you had a GPS, you definitely did not take it to work with you. ("Work" being a 2-3 month posting to the area, with a month off in between hitches. Free Russian language lessons!)

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