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China Uses Zoom To Spy on Americans, Zoom Shared US User Data With Beijing to Ensure Chinese Market Access

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All these tech conglomerates use the “it was just a mistake” or “it was human error” excuse. Even if it were true, a mistake that exposes people to the U.S.’s enemies should be subject to prosecution. Does the U.S. have any laws to punish businesses for “mistakenly” leaking classified/private data or putting American lives in danger? If not, that’s unacceptable.(TET reader)

The Epoch Times is now reporting:

Zoom Shared US User Data With Beijing to Ensure Chinese Market Access, Court Documents Show

By Cathy He, The Epcoh Times,December 21, 2020 Updated: December 23, 2020

A Zoom executive worked with Chinese authorities to provide data on users located outside of China and ensure the U.S. video-call giant retained market access in the country, according to recently unsealed court documents filed by U.S. federal prosecutors.

The documents detailed internal communications between Zoom employees, which showed that Chinese security authorities made numerous requests to the company for data on users and meetings that discussed political and religious topics Beijing deemed unacceptable. Zoom complied with most of these requests, at times involving users outside of China.

The revelations highlight how users outside of China’s shores are increasingly being caught in the crosshairs as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) steps up its demands on companies like Zoom to surveil and censor users both at home and abroad. Zoom is a San Jose-based company, whose software is developed in China.

The claims arose in a prosecution announced on Dec. 18 against Jin Xinjiang, also known as Julien, a China-based Zoom executive. Jin was charged over his role in disrupting a series of meetings this year commemorating the 31st anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre—an event deemed taboo by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Jin worked as Zoom’s main liaison with Chinese law enforcement and intelligence officials. Prosecutors allege Jin was directed by the CCP to shut down at least four Zoom meetings about the Tiananmen Square Massacre, most of which were hosted by Chinese dissidents based in the United States.

At the time, the company attracted widespread criticism after it suspended the accounts of a group of U.S.- and Hong Kong-based Chinese activists who hosted meetings commemorating the anniversary. The company said at the time that it took action because participating in such events was considered “illegal in China.”

In an updated statement issued on Dec. 18 after the federal case was made public, Zoom said it “fell short” by taking actions against users outside of mainland China, including suspending the accounts and shutting down meetings. It added that it would no longer allow requests from the Chinese regime to affect anyone outside the mainland.

Jin also took part in a scheme to infiltrate several meetings in May and June hosted by U.S.-based Chinese activists to remember the Massacre, according to prosecutors. He and co-conspirators allegedly fabricated evidence, to make it appear as if the meetings or participants engaged in conduct that breached Zoom’s terms of service, such as by inciting violence, supporting terrorist organizations, or distributing child pornography. They then used this concocted evidence to convince U.S.-based Zoom executives to cancel the meetings and suspend the accounts of the U.S. activists, prosecutors alleged.

Jin’s case did not appear isolated. The court complaint details a series of other incidents from June 2019, when the company complied with data or censorship requests from Chinese authorities—notably in relation to accounts outside of China. A constant theme underlying these requests was that Zoom would be shut out of the Chinese market if they did not cooperate.

Zoom, in another statement on Friday, said the company has cooperated with federal investigators and has launched an internal investigation. The company said that Jin shared a “limited amount of individual user data with Chinese authorities,” as well as data on less than 10 users based outside of China. Jin was fired, the company said, while other employees have been placed on administrative leave pending the internal investigation.

Working With the Party

Jin, 39, held the position of “security technical leader” at Zoom’s offices in eastern China’s Zhejiang Province. He led the company’s efforts to comply with the CCP’s censorship directives, prosecutors said.

The regime requires all communications companies operating in China to monitor and censor speech deemed unacceptable to the CCP, including on topics critical of the regime and about religious groups persecuted by the Party. It also requires foreign companies to store data for Chinese users on servers located inside China. A company that fails to comply will risk being blocked from the Chinese market.

As Zoom’s main liaison with Chinese authorities, Jin received directives from several bodies within China’s censorship and security apparatus, including the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), the regime’s internet regulator; the Ministry of State Security (MSS), China’s top intelligence agency; and Ministry of Public Security (MPS), the regime’s law enforcement body, according to the court complaint.

Jin was responsible for proactively monitoring meetings on Zoom for discussions deemed “illegal” by the regime. For instance, in August 2019, Jin singled out a Christian group hosting meetings on Zoom’s U.S. servers, an FBI agent said in the complaint. Jin told a U.S.-based colleague that the group was a “Chinese cult” and its account should be blocked due to its discussion of Christian content. In response, the colleague directed Jin to put the account on “quarantine” status, an action that limits its features, in the hopes that this would force the user to drop the platform.

In early September 2019, the Chinese regime blocked Zoom from operating in the country. To resume operations, Zoom was required to submit “rectification” plans to Chinese authorities, the complaint said. In the plan, Zoom agreed to proactively monitor communications for discussion of topics, including political views, deemed unacceptable to the CCP, migrate the storage of around 1 million China-based users’ data to China from the United States, and provide Chinese security authorities special access to Zoom’s systems, according to the FBI agent.

Zoom’s China service was eventually reinstated in November 2019.

Back in April:

China Uses Zoom To Spy on Americans, US Officials Say

By Giuliano J. Tech Times

According to US officials, China spies have been targeting Americans during the ongoing pandemic using the popular teleconferencing application, Zoom. As the lockdown caused by the coronavirus has forced millions of employees to work from home, video conferences have become the norm where teams share private company information.

However, the application has also provided a playground not just for cybercriminals, but also for spies. Zoom was previously accused of having weak security measures over allegations that it was sharing user information to third parties, and that incidents of “zoom-bombings” — where trolls and strangers enter private video conferences — were becoming common. The US Intelligence Officials have observed that Russia, Iran, North Korea, and China are attempting to spy on Americans using Zoom and other video chat platforms during video conferences.

According to a Time report, three US counter-intelligence agencies observed that foreign spies have observing Americans through popular applications. The intelligence officials stated in the report that among the foreign cyberspies, China has been the swiftest and most aggressive.

“More than anyone else, the Chinese are interested in what American companies are doing,” said one of the three US officials.

The intelligence officials and internet security researchers have been increasingly worried since the Chinese, Russians and other foreign countries are focusing on virtual tools that millions of Americans are using as they are forced to work from home. One of those has been, of course, Zoom.

According to the report of The Citizen Lab on April 3, a research organization at the University of Toronto found several security issues with the teleconferencing application. One of them makes users particularly vulnerable to China. The app’s encryption keys through Chinese servers are weak and are responsive to pressure from Chinese authorities since its ownership relies on Chinese labor.

Zoom responded to address the concern with multiple public statements. After the US intelligence officials claimed that the app’s platform has end-to-end encryption for all its conferences, Zoom clarified that the encryption is absent from some online messaging tools.

“While we never intended to deceive any of our customers, we recognize that there is a discrepancy between the commonly accepted definition of end-to-end encryption and how we were using it,” said the Chief Product Officer of Zoom, Oded Gal, on his blog on April 1.

However, the investigation conducted by The Citizen Lab found other issues in Zoom’s security. They found that the key for conference encryption and decryption was delivered to one of Zoom’s participants located in Beijing. The investigation was able to locate five servers in China and 68 in the United States that have the Zoom server software, which is the same that the Beijing server has.

The US intelligence officials, who requested anonymity, clarified that no evidence has yet been found to show that Zoom is cooperating with China.

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