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Database Leak Proves China Has Been Doing ‘Mass Surveillance’ On US And UK

by : Lucy Connolly on : 15 Sep 2020 15:51
Database Leak Proves China Has Been Doing 'Mass Surveillance' On US And UKDatabase Leak Proves China Has Been Doing 'Mass Surveillance' On US And UK PA Images/Pixabay

A database that contains detailed personal information on millions of people from the US and UK has been leaked from China, with experts saying it proves the extent of the country’s mass surveillance on the rest of the world.

The database of 2.4 million people was compiled by private firm Zhenhua Data, which lists the People’s Liberation Army and Chinese Communist Party among its main clients, and is understood to have been leaked by an anti-China activist.

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Information collected by the technology company includes the dates of birth, addresses, marital status, photographs, political associations, relatives and social media IDs of the people included on the database.

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Although a lot of the information has been ‘scraped’ from open-source material such as social media channels, some appears to have been taken from confidential bank records, job applications and psychological profiles. This information is believed to have been acquired via the dark web.

The database was originally leaked to US academic and cyber-security expert Professor Chris Balding, before being shared with an international consortium of media outlets in the UK, US, Canada, Italy, Germany and Australia.

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Professor Balding told the ABC:

China is absolutely building out a massive surveillance state both domestically and internationally. They’re using a wide variety of tools — this one is taken primarily from public sources, there is non-public data in here, but it is taken primarily from public sources.

I think it speaks to the broader threat of what China is doing and how they are surveilling, monitoring and seeking to influence… not just their own citizens, but citizens around the world.

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Professor Balding gave the database to cyber security company Internet 2.0, which was able to restore 10% of the 2.4 million records. Of the 250,000 records recovered, there were 52,000 on Americans, 35,000 Australians, 10,000 Indian, 9,700 British, 5,000 Canadians, 2,100 Indonesians, 1,400 Malaysians, 793 New Zealanders and 138 from Papua New Guinea.

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‘This mass collection of data is taking place in China’s private sector, in the same way Beijing outsources its cyber attack capability to private subcontractors,’ Internet 2.0’s chief executive, Robert Potter, said.

He added:

In the process, the company has violated the privacy of millions of global citizens, the terms of service of just about every major social media platform and hacked other companies for their data.

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Balding and Potter point out that ‘the data appears [to be] used to support Chinese intelligence, military, security, and state operations in information warfare and influence targeting’ in an official report on the database leak.

Despite having previously worked at Peking University in Beijing, Professor Balding left China completely in 2018, citing fears for his physical safety. He later moved to Vietnam, but has since returned to the US after being advised it was no longer safe for him to be there.

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Lucy Connolly

A Broadcast Journalism Masters graduate who went on to achieve an NCTJ level 3 Diploma in Journalism, Lucy has done stints at ITV, BBC Inside Out and Key 103. While working as a journalist for UNILAD, Lucy has reported on breaking news stories while also writing features about mental health, cervical screening awareness, and Little Mix (who she is unapologetically obsessed with).

Topics: News, China, Now, Technology, UK, US

Credits

ABC and 1 other
  1. ABC

    China's 'hybrid war': Beijing's mass surveillance of Australia and the world for secrets and scandal

  2. SSRN

    Chinese Open Source Data Collection, Big Data, And Private Enterprise Work For State Intelligence and Security: The Case of Shenzhen Zhenhua