Govt Sets up Expert Panel to Study Reports of China Snooping on VIPs, Assess Violations of Law: Sources

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The central government has set up an expert committee under the National Cyber Security Coordinator to study reports released earlier this week saying that a China-based company is mining data and snooping on hundreds of Indian politicians and leaders, including the Prime Minister, President, Chief Justice of India and other chief ministers.

The panel will study these reports, evaluate their implications, assess any violations of law and submit its recommendations within 30 days, said sources.

An investigative report by The Indian Express earlier detailed how Shenzen-based company Zhenhua Data Information Technology Co. has been keeping tabs on individuals including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Cabinet ministers like Rajnath Singh and Nirmala Sitharaman and at least 15 former Chiefs of the Army, Navy and Air Force among others. The company has links to the Chinese government and the Chinese Communist Party and is reportedly keeping tabs on over 10,000 Indian individuals and organisations in its global database of "foreign targets".

The decision about setting up the expert panel was communicated to Congress MP KC Venugopal by Minister of External Affairs S Jaishankar in response to the former's demands to protect the data of Indian leaders and others from spying by Chinese companies. Several other MPs raised this demand in the Parliament on Wednesday.

The sources said that the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has also raised the issue of Zhenhua Data Information Technology Co. allegedly spying on prominent Indians with the Chinese Ambassador on Wednesday. China reportedly said that Zhenhua is a private company and has made clear its position publicly.

The company on Wednesday said it is merely using public information on the internet for "data integration", according to Chinese Embassy sources. A company representative had denied that what the company was doing was "illegal or unreasonable", saying: "Our data are all public data on the internet. This is just data integration. Its (the company's) operations, which involve collecting and 'mobilising' data, are 100% from open sources with no data mining, and is no different from its Western peers, such as US public tracking platforms called EveryPolitician and GovTrack."