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NYU professor claims Chinese activist given spyware-laden devices

ChineseDissident_061713.jpg

In this May 31, 2012 file photo, Chen Guangcheng speaks at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. Chen, a Chinese dissident who was allowed to travel to the U.S. after escaping from house arrest said in a statement Monday, June 17, 2013, that New York University is forcing him and his family to leave at the end of this month because of pressure from the Chinese government.AP

An NYU professor who arranged a fellowship at the school for blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng has claimed that the dissident was given at least two devices laden with software that made it possible to track his movements and communications. 

Reuters reported that an iPad and iPhone were given to Chen by Heidi Cai in May 2012. Cai is the wife of activist Bob Fu, who runs a Christian group called ChinaAid that supports  underground churches in China, as well as the victims of forced abortions. 

According to NYU professor Jerome Cohen, school technicians screened the devices and found them to be laden with hidden spyware that would have allowed a third party to secretly connect to a built-in global positioning system. The technicians also found hidden password-protected software that backed up the contents to a remote server.

Cohen, who arranged a fellowship at NYU Law School for Chen after the self-trained lawyer escaped from house arrest and took refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, told Reuters that the spyware was deliberately installed by Chen's supporters, whom Cohen says may be attempting to manipulate the activist for political ends. 

"It's perfectly consistent with their desire to manipulate and control the situation and know whatever confidential advice he is getting," Cohen said. When reached by Reuters, Fu called the allegations "ridiculous" and said the iPhone and iPad were meant to be used by Chen's family to contact relatives in China. An NYU spokesman declined to discuss the episode.

A second source of the Reuters report said that Chen was informed that he was potentially being spied on and was "furious" and "very upset." However, Cohen said that Chen continued to interact with Fu and Cai after the disclosure.  

Chen is due to leave his position at NYU at the end of June, and has accused the university of bowing to pressure from the Chinese government by forcing him off campus. NYU has denied Chen's allegations. 

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