A Shenzen-based technology company with links to the Chinese government, and the Chinese Communist Party, is constantly monitoring over 10,000 Indian individuals and organisations through their online presence, a report has said.
An investigation by The Indian Express has revealed that the Overseas Key Information Database (OKIDB) developed by the Shenzhen information technology firm accounts for the largest group of India's high-profile individuals in its global database of "foreign targets".
The range of targets in India identified and monitored in real-time by Zhenhua Data Information Technology Co. Limited include President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Congress interim President Sonia Gandhi and their families; Chief Ministers Mamata Banerjee, Ashok Gehlot and Amarinder Singh to Uddhav Thackeray, Naveen Patnaik and Shivraj Singh Chouhan; Cabinet Ministers Rajnath Singh and Ravi Shankar Prasad to Nirmala Sitharaman, Smriti Irani, and Piyush Goyal; Chief of Defence Staff Bipin Singh Rawat to at least 15 former Chiefs of the Army, Navy and Air Force; Chief Justice of India Sharad Bobde and brother judge AM Khanwilkar to Lokpal Justice P C Ghose and Comptroller and Auditor General G C Murmu; start-up tech entrepreneurs like Nipun Mehra, founder of Bharat Pe (an Indian payment app), and Ajay Trehan of AuthBridge, an authentication technology firm, to top industrialists Ratan Tata and Gautam Adani.
China is watching many more
Not just influential individuals in the political and official establishment, but bureaucrats in key positions; judges; scientists and academicians; journalists; actors and sportspersons; religious figures and activists are also being monitored. And even hundreds accused of financial crime, corruption, terrorism, and smuggling of narcotics, gold, arms or wildlife.
This database, using advanced language, targeting and classification tools and included hundreds of entries without any explicit markers, the report said.
Meanwhile, the report added that the key to the monitoring process is Zhenhua Data's avowed goal of mining data to push what it calls "hybrid warfare" — using non-military tools to achieve dominance or damage, subvert or influence. These tools include, in its own words, "information pollution, perception management and propaganda."
Records showed that Zhenhua was registered as a company in April 2018 and set up 20 processing centres across countries and regions. It counts the Chinese government and military among its clients.
This assumes significance when an increasingly assertive China is locked in a simmering standoff with India along the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh and is pushing against many of its neighbours in the region and beyond.