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A company connected to Chinese military and intelligence organisations has obtained data of tens of thousands of Australians, a significant data leak has revealed. Those targeted include celebrities, journalists and even Australia’s Prime Minister, Scott Morrison.
Globally, some 2.4million people were traced.
Experts have labelled the move as a “psychological warfare” tactic to influence public opinion in Australia.
The Chinese firm behind the compilation of files, Zhenhua Data, is understood to have links to China’s intelligence service, the Ministry of State Security.
The server has also worked for the Chinese Communist Party and the People’s Liberation Army.
The information included in the disclosure shows that the server has been compiling “open-source” details such as dates of birth, addresses, marital status and photographs.
A review of the database described how the information obtained was sourced from “well known platforms as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn as well as others”.
The report added: “In addition to personal information, they logged information on posts, likes, and retweets.
“This allowed for a wide variety of relationship and key person targeting.”
But experts noted that up to 20 percent of the information could not be obtained through an open source, which meant it may have been collected from the dark web or through hacking.
The report stated: “The database included large amounts of public sector employee records.
“This includes everyone from known politicians to political aides to low level military personnel. The breadth of data capture was quite extensive.”
In the UK, Zhenhua collected information on politicians – including Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Other figures whose data has been collected include royals, religious leaders, military officers and their families.
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Tory MP Tom Tugendhat, whose family’s data has also been accessed, has previously sounded the alarm that he may be getting traced by Chinese intelligence.
He said the data leak marked an “important change” in the country’s tactic.
Speaking to the Telegraph, Mr Tugendhat said: “This is a further indication that their interest in UK politics has gone beyond the general and into the specific.
“What’s clear is that the Chinese government is seeking to get increasingly involved in politics abroad.
“Many of us know, through direct targeting in a crude way, that attempts to influence the UK have gone beyond what was normal a few years ago, and this seems to indicate that private companies in China are being used as part of a wider information-gathering effort.
“This is an indication that they are now seeing the West, and particularly the United Kingdom, as the kind of sphere of influence in which they wish to have this level of granular detail.”
Professor Christopher Balding, an associate fellow at London-based foreign policy think tank, the Henry Jackson Society, warned “anyone of influence” in the UK that China could be tracing them.
He said: “This database is just the tip of the iceberg, but it shows that China is systematically scrutinising millions in the West as potential intelligence targets.
“Anyone of influence in the UK, or closely related to them, should know that the Chinese government is keeping tabs on them.
“UK data suppliers also need to be much more careful in their business dealings with Chinese-linked firms – it is clear China’s Big Data dystopia is using Western data to effect its agenda.”
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