A Chinese technology company has been collecting online data on notable American political, military, and business leaders, and storing that information unsecured on the Internet, The Washington Post reports.
Shenzhen Zhenhua Data Technology has compiled a database of prominent foreigners known as the Overseas Key Information Database, which includes entries on 2 million people and at least 50,000 Americans. The information contained in the database includes birth dates, addresses, photographs, political associations, marital status, relatives, and social media identifiers.
The database collects data from social media like Twitter, Facebook, and TikTok, along with news stories and criminal records. Although much of the data comes from open-source material, some of the information appears to have been “scraped” from confidential financial records, job applications, and even psychological profiles, some of which might have been found on the “dark web.”
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports the database was recently leaked to an American academic who was working in Vietnam named Chris Balding, who formerly worked at China’s elite Peking University before returning to the U.S. out of concern for his safety.
“China is absolutely building out a massive surveillance state both domestically and internationally,” Balding told the ABC.
“They’re using a wide variety of tools — this one is taken primarily from public sources, there is non-public data in here, but it is taken primarily from public sources,” he added.
Balding gave the database to the Canberra-based cybersecurity firm Internet 2.0, which managed to restore about 10% of the more than 2 million records.
“This mass collection of data is taking place in China’s private sector, in the same way Beijing outsources its cyber attack capability to private subcontractors,” Internet 2.0 chief executive Robert Potter told the ABC.