China’s surveillance tech targets Indian VIPs
A leaked data cache belonging to a Chinese company with links to the government and military shows the profiling and tracking of prominent individuals in many foreign countries, including India.
A Chinese company with links to the country’s military and intelligence networks has been building a mammoth database of “relational” personal information on millions of people around the world. The leaked information shows that at least 10,000 Indians were targeted by Zhenhua Data—ranging from the President and Prime Minister to military chiefs and even celebrities. The professor who leaked it claims that the evidence reveals China’s ambition to create a “global authoritarian techno surveillance state.”
Zhenhua Data, controlled by a military research company, is based in Shenzhen, China—and its primary clients are the People’s Liberation Army and the Chinese Communist Party. Zhenhua CEO is a former IBM employee who previously advocated waging “hybrid warfare” through manipulation of public opinion and “psychological warfare”. Zhenhua’s core business is something called the Overseas Key Information Database, or OKIDB. It uses artificial intelligence to scrape and analyse personal data of millions of people around the world. This includes dates of birth, addresses, family trees, photographs, political associations and locations collated from social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Tik Tok and more. Much of the information is open source but there are some instances of confidential records being accessed, sometimes from the ‘dark web’.
The database was leaked to a US academic based in Vietnam who had worked in Shenzhen. Of the 250,000 records recovered, there were 10,000 Indians including President Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Sonia Gandhi and their families, Chief Ministers like Mamata Banerjee, Ashok Gehlot and Uddhav Thackeray. Other troubling inclusions are Cabinet Ministers Rajnath Singh, Ravi Shankar Prasad and Nirmala Sitharaman, Chief of Defence Staff Bipin Rawat and at least 15 former Chiefs of the Army, Navy and Air Force, Chief Justice of India Sharad Bobde, top industrialists like Ratan Tata and Gautam Adani and celebrities such as Sachin Tendulkar, Shyam Benegal, Sonal Mansingh and Rajdeep Sardesai.
China is now applying techniques honed at home—to control its citizens—at a global scale. It can use the information it collected to ‘groom a target’ – using compromising data either on a target or a family member opens the door to controlling them. Above all, big data is a vital tool in “hybrid warfare”—which combines a variety of military, economic and propaganda tactics to gain advantage. The idea is to create multiple fronts in a battleground, creating social panic via fake news which in turns triggers a political crisis, while putting military pressure on the borders.