State Department Warns American Spectators at Olympics Not to Expect Privacy

The State Department is advising Americans planning to attend the Olympic Games in Beijing to take care and be mindful that they could be under surveillance.

"All hotel rooms and offices are considered to be subject to on-site or remote technical monitoring at all times," the department's Bureau of Consular Affairs advised on Thursday. "Hotel rooms, residences and offices may be accessed at any time without the occupant's consent or knowledge."

The warning was part of an Olympics "fact sheet" that also said the threat level for terrorism against Americans in China remains low, although recent violence in Tibet is an example of how potentially dangerous events can occur in the approach to the Olympics in Beijing and other Chinese cities.

"Any large-scale public event like the upcoming Olympic Games could become the focus of terrorist acts or other forms of violence," the bureau said.

However, it said there was no reason to believe Americans were being targeted at this time.

"Travelers are strongly encouraged to be aware of their surroundings while in China," the statement said. "Continued vigilance is necessary to reduce the likelihood of becoming a victim of crime."

While the State Department typically advises American travelers to be cautious, the fact sheet was issued amid rising tensions over a Chinese crackdown on Tibetan protesters. The Chinese generally are sensitive to outside criticism, and they consider hosting the Olympics a coup.

In a section on privacy and safety, the State Department office warned Americans that "they have no reasonable expectation of privacy in public or private locations."

The State Department also warned that hotels, apartments and other buildings might be fire and safety hazards.

"Many hotels and apartment buildings may be of substandard construction, lack emergency exits, fire suppression systems, carbon monoxide monitors and standard security equipment (locks, alarms, and personnel)," the statement said, suggesting Americans review fire evacuation procedures.

Americans were also advised to keep their passports out of the reach of pickpockets, and to be wary of Olympics tickets scams.

And State noted that Americans returning home with fake or pirated goods could face fines or have to turn in any illegal booty.

"In many countries around the world, including China, counterfeit and pirated goods, including medications, are widely available," the notice said. "Transactions involving such products are illegal and bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines."

Americans with dual Chinese citizenship were counseled to travel on their American passport so that the U.S. consular affairs office can help them if they are arrested or detained by local authorities for any reason. "U.S. Embassy and Consulate officials are often denied access to arrested or detained Americans who do not enter China using their U.S. passport," the statement said.