By Kayleigh Madjar / Staff writer, with the Guardian and CNA
Prominent and not-so-prominent Taiwanese have been swept up by a Chinese tech firm in a database of the personal information of millions of people around the world.
About 2.4 million people are included in the Overseas Key Information Database (OKIDB) — a collection of mostly public data such as social-media profiles — compiled by Shenzhen-based Zhenhua Data Information Technology Co Ltd (深圳振華數據信息技術有), which reportedly has links to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and Beijing’s intelligence networks.
Radio Free Asia on Tuesday reported that at least 2,900 Taiwanese political and business leaders were among those caught up in the database.
Photo: Fang Pin-chao, Taipei Times
Most notably, the news outlet found data on former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九); People First Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜); Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu (吳釗燮); Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (台積電) Education and Culture Foundation chairwoman Sophie Chang (張淑芬); National Security Bureau (NSB) Deputy Director-General Hu Mu-yuan (胡木源); Lee Kun-yi (李坤儀), a granddaughter of former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝); and former NSB director-general Yang Kuo-chiang (楊國強).
According to the news outlet’s analysis, people found in the database can be roughly divided into seven groupings: prominent political figures; foreign and military officials; those in the tech industry or academia; local officials; those with criminal records; entertainers; and partners or relatives of those people.
Data include personal information, such as addresses, birthdays, e-mail addresses, marital status, photographs, social media accounts, legal documents and criminal records, it said.
The data could be used to analyze personalities, categorize people by importance or to compile a network of their contacts, Radio Free Asia quoted National Taiwan University assistant professor of criminology Puma Shen (沈伯洋) as saying.
Considering that relatively few Taiwanese and dissidents are included in the database, Zhenhua Data is likely peripherally related to “united front” work as a contractor, Shen said.
President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and former Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) are not in the database, Radio Free Asia reported, although it found some surprising figures, such as Jko Fintech chairman Kevin Hu (胡亦嘉); Chthonic band member Doris Yeh (葉湘怡), the wife of Legislator Freddy Lim (林昶佐); news anchor Lulu Hsia (夏嘉璐); and singer Kenji Wu (吳克群).
The database was leaked to US academic Christopher Balding, who was previously based in Shenzhen, but has returned to the US.
For recovery and analysis, he shared the data with Internet 2.0, a Canberra-based cybersecurity consultancy. The findings were first published on Monday by a consortium of media outlets, including the Guardian.
Internet 2.0 said that it recovered 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 Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, their relatives, the British royal family, celebrities and military figures.
However, a Zhenhua representative contacted by the Guardian said that the firm does not collect data, it simply integrates it.
“We are a private company,” said the woman, surnamed Sun, denying any links to the Chinese government or military. “Our customers are research organizations and business groups.”
“OKIDB exists, but it is not as magical as they say,” she said, referring to the foreign media reports.
However, Balding described the breadth of the data as “staggering,” saying that the database was “technically complex using very advanced language, targeting and classification tools.”
Additional reporting by Diane Baker
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