'Chinese surveillance state's depth can't be underestimated': Prof behind revelations on tracking of top leaders

Zhenhua Data Information Technology Co. Limited, a Shenzen-based company, is monitoring over 10,000 prominent people and organisations in India, a report in The Indian Express said

FP Staff September 14, 2020 10:36:32 IST
'Chinese surveillance state's depth can't be underestimated': Prof behind revelations on tracking of top leaders

Representational image. Reuters

Editor's note: A company with links to the Chinese government is monitoring over 10,000 prominent people and organisations in India, according to a report in The Indian Express. Those being tracked reportedly include the top political leadership including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, top defence officers, Supreme Court judges and high-level bureaucrats. Other countries such as the United States, United Kingdom and Japan were also said to have been tracked by the company. The report has cited an anonymous source who was working through a professor in Vietnam, Christopher Balding. The following is Balding's personal statement on the revelations:

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Last year I began research into Huawei, simply because I thought I was well placed to figure out some basics I had heard people talk about but remained open questions. I never guessed the relatively abrupt turn my research focus would take due to stumbling into what, for China researchers, is something akin to discovering the Holy Grail.

Out of this initial research question, a series of events and introductions took place that unveiled enormous amounts of data collected by activists from China. This data provides proof of activities that China was believed to engage in, but for the first-time, data confirmed these activities.

Our team has an enormous amount of work provided to us that we are working through and intend to publicize about the authoritarian threat that is China under Chinese Communist Party rule. Reviewing the raw data, even Chinese “experts” continue to radically underestimate the investment in monitoring and surveillance tools dedicated to controlling and influencing, not just its domestic citizens and institutions, but assets outside of China.

We are working with governments, journalists, and select academics or think tanks around the world to help provide the necessary range of expertise needed to analyze and understand the data. What cannot be underestimated is the breadth and depth of the Chinese surveillance state and its extension around the world. The world is only at the beginning stages of understand how much China invests in intelligence and influence operations using the type of raw data we have to understand their targets.

A project of this size would not be possible without multiple people. The first thanks goes to Rob Potter and his entire team at Internet 2.0. They brought significant technical expertise to the data across a range of areas. From working through how databases were constructed, to how governments use this data, their work has been vital to realizing this project.

The individual who provided the Shenzhen Zhenhua database by putting themselves at risk to get this data out has done an enormous service and is proof that many inside China are concerned about CCP authoritarianism and surveillance.

The journalists who worked so hard on this story to understand the data, its intended use, the company, and the technical tools behind the database deserve enormous praise. This was a difficult and complex story, but their commitment to working collaboratively and in good faith as a team and with us to understand and fact check everything represent the standard journalism strives for.

Finally, there are many people who contributed in big and small ways that deserve recognition, but for various reasons wish to remain or need to remain anonymous. Their contribution was instrumental in bringing this project forward and for their work I am deeply grateful for seeing the vision.

I am motivated by the concern that the scope of the authoritarian threat from Communist China remains poorly understood, by even many China experts. The depth and capabilities of their desire to engineer the soul, as John Garnaut so eloquently put it, must be acknowledged. They have and are building the tools to accomplish these objectives. Hopefully, this provides some small evidence to their objectives and that we in open liberal democracies begin taking them seriously.

The text has been reproduced from Christopher Balding's website and has not been edited by Firstpost.

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