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China Conducts Worldwide Surveillance Including 710 Hungarians in Newly Unveiled Database

Fanni Kaszás 2020.10.08.

A database of 2.4 million people has been unveiled, proving that China is collecting and monitoring information globally. A data analyst told Szabad Európa (Free Europe) that the recently released database is the first direct evidence that China is monitoring foreign individuals and institutions for intelligence and influence purposes outside its own borders. The list includes 710 Hungarian names. 

An article in Szabad Európa said that the database was compiled from 2.3 billion articles and 2.1 billion social media posts. The total size of the text files is 1 terabyte. Data collection began in 2017 with a company called Shenzhen Zhenhua Data Information Technology. The files containing the data had already been damaged when it got to researchers, who were only able to recover about 10% of the information. Of the approximately 250,000 people known to be surveyed this way, 52,000 are Americans, 35,000 are Australians, 17,000 are Hispanics, 10,000 are Indians and British, and 5,000 are Canadians.

The list also includes 710 Hungarian names, including leading and local politicians, as well as their family members, company executives, and military officers, but there are also journalists on the list. However, as only a small part of the data was recovered, Zhenhua probably collected data on thousands of Hungarians. Szabad Európa will later reveal in an article who the Hungarians are in the database.

Foreigners include British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Australian and Indian PMs Scott Morrison and Narendra Modi respectively and their families, ministers from many other countries, and even members of the British royal family. In addition to them, information was also gathered about low and high-ranking soldiers from the armies of various countries, researchers working in industries important to China, software developers, and company executives, diplomats, and even convicted criminals.

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About 80% of the data collected comes from the Internet, including articles accessible to anyone and social media profiles. Data collection sites such as Factiva and Crunchbase were used to search for information, while social media sites Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and even TikTok pages were browsed by the compilers of the database, who probably combed the social sites with Zhenhua’s self-developed programs.

The remaining 20% of the information comes from offline sources that could have been purchased from either hackers or data merchants. The database also contains information that has been shared by the users themselves, although not with the public, according to a communication from experts analyzing the database.

The purpose of the database is clear, according to experts: to assist the Chinese government and military intelligence. Analysts say it is quite clear that this is targeted data collection, as people in the database includes those who, through their workplace or relationships, have an impact on decision-making or access to important information, be it technology, infrastructure, or military operations. It also includes those who have public influence, such as politicians and journalists.

The information collected includes personal data (date of birth, address, marital status), political and family relationships, social media profiles, information on criminal and military progress, financial information, or even photographs of the person. In addition to some individuals, analyses were also found in the database, as well as those marked as “important” by the database’s creators.

featured photo: pixabay