India raises Zhenhua 'snooping' issue with China envoy

The Indian government on Wednesday set up an "expert committee" under the National Cyber Security Coordinator in the National Security Council Secretariat to look into alleged snooping by a Chinese company on Indian leaders.

India's foreign ministry also raised the matter with China's ambassador Sun Weidong.

The company, Zhenhua Data Information Technology, is a pioneer in "hybrid warfare" and is allegedly linked to the Chinese government.

According to a report published in The Indian Express on Monday, it tracked over 10,000 Indians, including prominent leaders such as Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress party interim chief Sonia Gandhi and their families.

According to sources, a foreign ministry officer told the Chinese envoy that, even though the Shenzhen-based company is privately owned, it is a matter of "concern" that it is snooping on the personal data of prominent Indians.

Ambassador Sun was informed that the Indian government has taken the matter "very seriously" since it concerns the protection of Indian citizens' privacy and personal data.

The expert committee has been entrusted with studying the reports of alleged collection of personal data "without consent".

Among other things, the committee has been asked to evaluate the implications, assess any violation of laws and submit its report in the next 30 days.

This information was also conveyed by Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar to Congress MP K.C. Venugopal in Parliament as MPs sought the government's response on the matter.

According to The Guardian, Zhenhua has collected information on about 2.5 million key individuals and over 650,000 organisations from countries across the world.

Internet 2.0, a cybersecurity consultancy based in Canberra whose customers include the United States and Australian governments, said it has been able to recover the records of about 250,000 people from the leaked dataset, including about 52,000 Americans, 35,000 Australians and nearly 10,000 Britons.

They include politicians, such as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison and their relatives, the royal family, celebrities and military figures.

According to The Indian Express, Zhenhua's Indian database includes ministers, businessmen, entrepreneurs, defence personnel, bureaucrats, diplomats, scholars, researchers, scientists and academics.

Zhenhua, which counts the Chinese government and military as clients, has denied all allegations, saying in a statement that it only integrates public data.

When contacted by The Guardian, a representative of Zhenhua said: "The report is seriously untrue. Our data are all public data on the Internet. We do not collect data. This is just a data integration.

"Our business model and partners are our trade secrets. There is no database of two million people."

The Chinese government said it is "a staunch defender of cybersecurity and opposes and fights all cyber crimes".

Indo-Asian News Service

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