Zhenhua Data Information Technology Co, a Chinese company linked to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and Beijing’s intelligence networks has been accused of amassing a large database comprising detailed personal information on lakhs of people around the world, including thousands of Indians. This includes prominent and influential personalities.
According to news reports, the company has a database of 24 lakh people which includes 10,000 Indians. These “foreign targets” include President Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress interim President Sonia Gandhi, a number of chief ministers, union ministers, service chiefs and the Chief Justice of India (CJI) SA Bobde, among others.
Besides the aforementioned names, Zhenhua Data also reportedly collected data on the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) GC Murmu, and top industrialists Ratan Tata and Gautam Adani.
According to a report by The Indian Express, the Shenzen-based technology company calls itself a pioneer in using big data for “hybrid warfare” and the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation”.
The collected information includes dates of birth, addresses, marital status, along with photographs, political associations, relatives and social media IDs.
According to the report by The Indian Express, Zhenhua Data’s round-the-clock surveillance collects personal information on its “target” from all social media accounts and keeps track of their friends and relatives on such platforms.
It also analyses posts, likes and comments by friends and followers. It is also allegedly collects private information such as movements and geographic locations through Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools.
Reports suggest that the firm mined this data to push what it calls “hybrid warfare” — using non-military tools to achieve dominance or damage, subvert or influence.
According to the newspaper report, when confronted with questions on these allegations, the firm responded by saying, “Sorry, these questions touch upon our trade secrets. It’s not convenient to disclose.”
Chinese Embassy source in New Delhi said as per the report, “China has not asked and will not ask companies or individuals to collect or provide data, information and intelligence stored within other countries’ territories for the Chinese government by installing “backdoors” or by violating local laws.”
These actions, if proven, stand to violate Indian law. Under India’s Information Technology Rules, 2011, under the IT Act, 2000, personal data is “any information regarding a natural person, which either directly or indirectly, in combination with other information available or likely to be available… is capable of identifying such person.”
The database, however, does not include information in the public domain and that is not available freely.