New Delhi: The Modi government has set up an expert committee to look into alleged snooping by a Chinese firm on Indian leaders, even as the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) raised the matter with China Ambassador Sun Weidong Wednesday.
The firm, Zhenhua Data Information Technology Co, is a pioneer in “hybrid warfare” and is linked to the country’s administration. According to a report published Monday in The Indian Express, the firm tracked over 10,000 Indians, including prominent leaders like PM Narendra Modi, Congress interim chief Sonia Gandhi and their families.
The MEA, Indian diplomatic sources said, told the Chinese envoy that, even though the Shenzhen-based company is privately-owned firm, it is a matter of “concern” that it is snooping on the personal data of prominent Indians.
Ambassador Sun was informed that the government has taken the matter “very seriously” since it concerns the protection of Indian citizens’ privacy and personal data, sources said.
An expert committee, the sources added, has been entrusted with studying the reports of alleged snooping and spying on personal data “without the consent” of the people involved.
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. The panel has been set up under the National Cyber Security Coordinator.
This information was also conveyed by Union External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar to Congress MP K.C. Venugopal in Parliament as MPs sought the government’s response on the matter.
Zhenhua, which counts the Chinese government and military as clients, has denied all allegations, saying in a statement issued Tuesday that it only integrates public data.
Also Read: ‘It’s data integration’ — Chinese firm Zhenhua denies charges of illegal data mining
China ‘staunch defender of cybersecurity’
The Chinese government weighed in on the Zhenhua controversy Wednesday, saying that China is ready to enhance cooperation and communication with all sides, “make and abide by global rules that… prevent all practices that use one’s technological advantage to undermine other countries’ security, and safeguard global data security”.
“I’d like to stress that as a staunch defender of cybersecurity, China opposes and fights all cybercrimes. We would like to enhance dialogue and cooperation with other countries to jointly build a peaceful, secure, open and cooperative cyberspace,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said.
“I noticed the company’s response that the report is seriously untrue. The company said clearly that it’s a private company, and its clients are research institutions and business groups. Instead of collecting data, it only mobilises data which is open and available online.”
Also Read: Govt looking into reports that China tracking 10,000 Indians via ‘hybrid warfare’ firm