Demonstrators wave Uyghur nationalist flags in central Istanbul as they hold up photos of missing relatives caught up in China's crackdown on the Uyghur minority group.
Isil Sariyuce/CNN
Demonstrators wave Uyghur nationalist flags in central Istanbul as they hold up photos of missing relatives caught up in China's crackdown on the Uyghur minority group.
Now playing
03:39
Uyghurs plead for answers about family in China
CNN
Now playing
03:08
Families of detained protesters in Cuba speak out
People drink on the dance floor shortly after the reopening, at The Piano Works in Farringdon, in London, Monday, July 19, 2021. Thousands of young people plan to dance the night away at 'Freedom Day' parties after midnight Sunday, when almost all coronavirus restrictions in England are to be scrapped. Nightclubs, which have been shuttered since March 2020, can finally reopen. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)
Alberto Pezzali/AP
People drink on the dance floor shortly after the reopening, at The Piano Works in Farringdon, in London, Monday, July 19, 2021. Thousands of young people plan to dance the night away at 'Freedom Day' parties after midnight Sunday, when almost all coronavirus restrictions in England are to be scrapped. Nightclubs, which have been shuttered since March 2020, can finally reopen. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)
Now playing
02:17
UK is reopening and scientists are confused to what's happening
lebanon wedeman beirut
AFPTV
lebanon wedeman beirut
Now playing
02:58
What's happening in Tunisia and why it matters
Gold medalist Zimbabwe's Kirsty Coventry stands on the podium for the women's 200m backstroke swimming final medal ceremony at the National Aquatics Center during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games in Beijing on August 16, 2008.    Kirsty Coventry of Zimbabwe set a new world record in the women's 200 metres backstroke with a time of two minutes 05.24 seconds in the final at the Beijing Olympics. US swimmer Margaret Hoelzer placed second and Japanese swimmer Reiko Nakamura placed third.  AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY CLARY/AFP via Getty Images)
TIMOTHY CLARY/AFP/AFP via Getty Images
Gold medalist Zimbabwe's Kirsty Coventry stands on the podium for the women's 200m backstroke swimming final medal ceremony at the National Aquatics Center during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games in Beijing on August 16, 2008. Kirsty Coventry of Zimbabwe set a new world record in the women's 200 metres backstroke with a time of two minutes 05.24 seconds in the final at the Beijing Olympics. US swimmer Margaret Hoelzer placed second and Japanese swimmer Reiko Nakamura placed third. AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY CLARY/AFP via Getty Images)
Now playing
02:47
'You have to train your brain as much as any muscle'
i-Cable
Now playing
03:18
First person charged under Hong Kong national security law
A police convoy drives past a wall painted with the president's image down the alley of the entrance to the residence of the president in Port-au-Prince on July 15, 2021, in the wake of Haitian President Jovenel Moise's assassination on July 7, 2021. - The assassination of Jovenel Moise by armed mercenaries was planned in the neighboring Dominican Republic, say Haitian police, who announced the detention of the slain president's chief bodyguard and three other members of his security detail. (Photo by Valerie Baeriswyl / AFP) (Photo by VALERIE BAERISWYL/AFP via Getty Images)
VALERIE BAERISWYL/AFP/AFP via Getty Images
A police convoy drives past a wall painted with the president's image down the alley of the entrance to the residence of the president in Port-au-Prince on July 15, 2021, in the wake of Haitian President Jovenel Moise's assassination on July 7, 2021. - The assassination of Jovenel Moise by armed mercenaries was planned in the neighboring Dominican Republic, say Haitian police, who announced the detention of the slain president's chief bodyguard and three other members of his security detail. (Photo by Valerie Baeriswyl / AFP) (Photo by VALERIE BAERISWYL/AFP via Getty Images)
Now playing
04:52
Exclusive: Signs of coverup in Haiti assassination investigation
Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman meets with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Tianjin, China, on July 26, 2021.  Beijing has indicated that the U.S. is treating China as an "imaginary enemy" after the meeting between top diplomats Sherman and Wang.
Sherman Meets With Wang in Tianjin, China, Beijing - 26 Jul 2021. U.S. State Department/UPI/Shutterstock
U.S. State Department/UPI/Shutterstock
Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman meets with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Tianjin, China, on July 26, 2021. Beijing has indicated that the U.S. is treating China as an "imaginary enemy" after the meeting between top diplomats Sherman and Wang. Sherman Meets With Wang in Tianjin, China, Beijing - 26 Jul 2021. U.S. State Department/UPI/Shutterstock
Now playing
01:09
Chinese official: The US portrays China as an imaginary enemy
ANI via Reuters
Now playing
02:09
Villagers left devastated by torrential rains in India
Now playing
03:38
Pakistani Taliban leader reacts to Afghan gains after US withdrawal
Australia vietnam indonesia covid holmes pkg intl hnk vpx_00000503.png
Australia vietnam indonesia covid holmes pkg intl hnk vpx_00000503.png
Now playing
02:27
Australian PM calls anti-lockdown protesters 'reckless' and 'self-defeating'
TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 23: General view inside the stadium as fireworks go off while Naomi Osaka of Team Japan lights the Olympic cauldron with the Olympic torch during the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on July 23, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 23: General view inside the stadium as fireworks go off while Naomi Osaka of Team Japan lights the Olympic cauldron with the Olympic torch during the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on July 23, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:22
Tokyo 2020 Games officially underway after yearlong delay
DESKTOP afghan pilot 2
CNN
DESKTOP afghan pilot 2
Now playing
02:00
'They would just try to break me': First female Afghan Air Force pilot on adversity in the military
CNN
Now playing
02:24
See Tokyo 2020 Olympics from above
Biden town hall vpx
CNN
Biden town hall vpx
Now playing
01:45
Biden reveals what world leaders are asking him about America
siberia russia wildfires climate crisis Brunhuber ctw pkg intl ldn vpx_00003508.png
siberia russia wildfires climate crisis Brunhuber ctw pkg intl ldn vpx_00003508.png
Now playing
02:36
Huge swaths of Siberia are on fire. See how firefighters are responding
Hong Kong CNN —  

China’s far-reaching security network is targeting tourists, with border guards secretly installing a surveillance app onto the phones of visitors to Xinjiang, according to a joint report by several major international media organizations.

If true, it would be the latest move to tighten surveillance in the heavily-repressed region, where the US State Department has estimated up to two million Muslim-majority Uyghurs are being held in detention camps.

There is a heavy police presence across Xinjiang and security cameras there are a common sight. From 2017, the Chinese government began to collect DNA and biometric data from millions of local residents.

The new joint investigation by organizations, including the Guardian and the New York Times, alleges the crackdown is now affecting visitors and tourists to the region. CNN has not been able to independently verify the report.

The Jieleixi No.13 village mosque in Yangisar, south of Kashgar, in China's western Xinjiang region on June 4, with a banner saying "Love party, love country."
GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images
The Jieleixi No.13 village mosque in Yangisar, south of Kashgar, in China's western Xinjiang region on June 4, with a banner saying "Love party, love country."

Asked about the app Wednesday, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said they had “never heard of (it).” CNN has sent a request for comment to the Xinjiang regional government but had not heard back at the time of publishing.

According to media reports, visitors arriving in Xinjiang from neighboring Kyrgyzstan have been forced to unlock their phones for border officials, who then install an application called Fengcai. The name is a combination of the characters for “bee” and “to gather,” conjuring the image of a bee gathering pollen from a flower.

People whose phones had been confiscated said they were given no warning of or explanation for the app’s installation.

Once installed, the app allegedly scans the device’s text messages, call records, contacts, calendar entries and saved data for a list of more than 73,000 red-flag items, according to the reports.

The images and information considered noteworthy by the app include files linked to Islamic extremism, such as ISIS propaganda, and pictures of the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, according to the reports.

Even scanned pages of an Arabic dictionary are allegedly flagged by the app.

The app was only installed on Android phones, according to the media reports. For Apple devices, police allegedly attached a hand-held device by a USB cable, the purpose of which was unclear.

The app was examined by journalists from a number of international publications, including the Guardian, the New York Times, Motherboard, German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung and the German broadcaster NDR.

Xinjiang, the largest region in China with a comparatively small population of 22 million, is home to a variety of minority groups including the predominantly Muslim, Turkic-speaking Uyghurs.

In recent years, authorities have increasingly tightened security in the region in the name of cracking down on Islamic extremism.

But a CNN investigation in May found that people with no history of radicalization were being imprisoned in massive re-education camps.

Although China insists the centers are voluntary “vocational training centers,” when CNN attempted to visit them security guards restricted access to the buildings themselves.