Could the NSA be spying on the wife of China’s president?

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Peng Liyuan, the wife of Chinese leader Xi Jinping, appears to have an iPhone. And now, according to reports, US intelligence agencies may be spying on iPhone users through a secret data harvesting program. Does that mean there’s a possibility that the US is spying on the private messages of China’s first lady? Today, this photo of Peng snapping a picture with what looks like an iPhone 5, went viral among internet users in China:

Peng Liyuan (left) takes a photo at Chichen Itza in Mexico.
Peng Liyuan (left) takes a photo at Chichen Itza in Mexico.
Image: Sina

Hard to say. It’s still unclear what US intelligence agencies may have accessed, but if that includes data passing through any Apple server, that could mean any texts Peng sends on iMessage, and, if she backs her phone up to iCloud, the entire contents of her phone, including photos, apps and contacts.

According to the Washington Post and the Guardian, the FBI and the National Security Agency have targeted foreigners in their data mining search for possible terrorist activity. In the context of mutual US-China cyberspying accusations and suspicions, it’s not unreasonable that the US might do whatever it takes to keep an eye on China.

That said, China’s first ladies traditionally sit on the sidelines of national politics, so it’s not likely that Peng is privy to high-level security discussions. (Nor is it likely that she keeps sensitive information on her iPhone.) Yet, as we wrote yesterday, if these recent reports are true, just being a non-US national increases one’s chances of being caught in an intelligence dragnet. Being a foreign head of state or partner of one could increase those chances a whole lot more.