By China Change, published: June 9, 2014
On Monday, June 9th, China’s state-run media outlet China News (中新网) reported that Beijing police had arrested a 22-year-old young female by the family name Zhao for posting an article on Twitter that teaches how to use a pseudo base station “to send illegal information.” According to the report, the Chinese internet security police formed a task force to solve the case as soon as they discovered this particular tweet, and a multi-agency investigation led to Zhao’s arrest and the confiscation of her “criminal tool” – a laptop computer.
The news alarmed the Chinese Twitter community. Many of them recalled a tweet they had read before June 4th, the 25th anniversary of Tian’anmen democracy movement, by “赵你@RFITB” on May 24, 2014:
“My brain hole opened up briefly [had a flash of genius] this afternoon, and I wrote a June 4th Anniversary • A Conceptual Plan for Using Pseudo Base Station https://docs.google.com/document/d/1dVKJEvRk2meACO4oVRgR5OrvkkoRgTKP8Mysrw8ZNzk/edit?usp=sharing … I have no idea whether this is doable. I don’t have the capacity to do it, but if you think it is an actionable concept, please spread it. #重回天安门 #六四”
The tweet has the hashtag of “return to Tian’anmen” and “June 4th” but the Chinese official report avoided mentioning any of these phrases.
The conceptual plan (new link embedded as the original link seemed to have been severed as this report was written) first thanks CCTV’s March 15 evening show that airs consumer product scandals for learning about the pseudo base station, what it is and how it works. The plan’s stated purpose is to use pseudo base station to spread “knowledge about June 4th and send messages to 2G cellphone users in certain areas to promote a ‘Return to Tian’anmen’ campaign”
Taking into consideration risk factors, the plan calls for multiple vehicles to drive through Tian’anmen Square during days leading up to June 4th to send information, each making a quick excursion to avoid being detected.
The proposed plan also provides links to literature on how a pseudo base station works and where to purchase one. The author states that he or she is a student and this is only an idea that needs to be perfected with others’ input. The author says he or she is willing to provide RMB200 to support the purchase and use of pseudo base stations.
Tweeps in Twitter’s Chinese community quickly found information about the 22-year-old female on Facebook, Twitter and on China’s Renren. Her name appears to be Zhao Huaxu (赵华旭), a sophomore in Beijing International Studies University, better known among Chinese as Beijing Second Foreign Language College (北京第二外国语学院), majoring in business English. (via @Arctosia, @wenyunchao, @lijiansion and @OutdoorAYA).
What is a pseudo base station? @OutdoorAYA explains: It is a security flaw of the GSM, or Global System for Mobile Communications, where a base station will verify a user, but the end user will not verify the base station. In other words, as long as you can send radio signals similar to that of a GSM base station, you can connect GSM cellphones in your vicinity with your pseudo base station, and you can send text messages to these cellphones.
The Chinese authorities, led by the Central Internet Security and Informatization Leading Group (中央网络安全和信息化领导小组), have been conducting a nationwide crackdown on the use of pseudo base stations since February. On May 22, a Beijing court announced a verdict on the city’s first pseudo base station case, and a man was sentenced to four years in prison for sending 160,000 or so “trash text messages” in the city’s busy districts. Many fraud groups have been using pseudo base station to send information, others use it to send real estate commercials for real estate companies.
Ms. Zhao Huaxu was aware of China’s crackdown on the use of pseudo base stations and, in her proposed plan, she warned that “if the 25th anniversary pseudo base station activities are discovered, those who are arrested for it could very well be facing several charges.” She didn’t seem to have thought about the risk in making the kind of proposal she did in the Chinese society of today where you seem to be free until you exercise your most fundamental rights.
One tweep is of the opinion that “the arrest of @RFITB is not because she has interacted with someone or discussed the topics of Tian’anmen movement, but because of the proposal she made. As a method of breaking information blockage, pseudo base station hits CCP’s weakness. When it is used in an one-man guerrilla style without him or her revisiting the same location too soon, such asymmetrical strategy can make offline impact that is hard to control and remedy, and it is very costly to try to prevent it.”
A Twitter newcomer asked how the Chinese police could have found out the identity of Ms. Zhao Huaxu. A veteran tweep who attended the June 4th vigil in Victoria Park in Hong Kong replied, speaking of his return to mainland China after the vigil, “As soon as my plane landed, I was approached and interrogated by Big Brother’s people. I would say every single tweet is being closely watched by someone.”
Update (9:20 am EST, June 10, 2014): According to Beijing-based prominent democracy activist Hu Jia, Zhao 某某 in China News report is indeed Zhao Huaxu, a rising senior (class 2015) of Beijing Second Foreign Language College. Hu Jia also found that Zhao Huaxu was detained a week ago.