Military-Linked Chinese Company Collected Personal Data On Thousands of Canadians

Global database targets influential figures and their families
September 14, 2020 Updated: September 23, 2020

A Chinese company with reported links to Beijing’s military and intelligence arm has amassed the personal details of thousands of Canadians as part of a giant global database targeting influential figures and their families, according to reports from a global media consortium that accessed an early copy of the database.

The company, Zhenhua Data, is tied to the People’s Liberation Army, the Ministry of State Security, and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and has collated the profiles of 2.4 million people across the world.

Titled the Overseas Key Individuals Database, it includes personal information on at least 5,000 Canadians, according to reports from the global media consortium. The database includes prominent people in various sectors—politics, business, law, academia, and defence—and lists details data points like their birth dates, addresses, marital statuses, and political leanings.

Influential Canadians on the list include dozens of current and former MPs including Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, mayors of several Western Canadian towns, and current and former members of the Supreme Court of Canada, according to analysis by the Globe and Mail.

Senior bureaucrats at the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the Treasury Board, the Transportation Safety Board, the Export Development Canada, and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner were also listed.

In addition, the database includes family members of prominent Canadians such as Justin Trudeau’s 11-year-old daughter Ella-Grace Trudeau, and Jeremy Fry, the son of long-serving B.C. Liberal MP Hedy Fry.

According to the Globe’s analysis, the database contains nearly 16,000 entries mentioning Canada. Among a shortlist of 3,767 Canadians, the creators assigned a “grade” to the individuals of either 1, 2, or 3:

“Those assigned a 1 appeared to be people of direct influence, such as mayors, MPs, or senior civil servants, while those assigned a 2 were often relatives of people in power, such as Mr. Trudeau’s daughter and Ms. Fry’s son. Those assigned a grade of 3 often had criminal convictions, mostly for economic crimes,” the newspaper reported.

Bank records, job applications, and psychological profiles were also included in the data, much of which was taken from information in the public domain, including news articles, criminal records, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and TikTok.

However, 20 percent of the data is not open source, including confidential documents, indicating that the information was obtained through hacking or the dark web.

Zhenhua Data’s CEO Wang Xuefeng has endorsed waging “unrestricted warfare” through manipulating public opinion and “psychological warfare,” according to a WeChat post.

The database was leaked by an anonymous employee of Zhenhua Data and discovered by Professor Chris Balding, who worked at Peking University until 2018 when he fled to Vietnam over safety concerns.

In a statement published on his website dated Sept. 14, Balding says he was researching claims into Huawei until he stumbled onto the “Holy Grail” for China researchers. He provided the information to a global consortium of media outlets in Australia, the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Italy, and Germany.

Balding claims the data validates long-held suspicions surrounding the CCP’s surveillance and monitoring operations.

“What cannot be underestimated is the breadth and depth of the Chinese surveillance state and its extension around the world,” he said. “The world is only at the beginning stages of understanding how much China invests in intelligence and influence operations using the type of raw data we have to understand their targets.”

In a previous statement, Balding said the CCP presents an “unprecedented challenge to open freedom loving rule of law states around the world.”

The regime is “constructing a techno-surveillance security state that gives the Communist Party powerful means to control citizens domestically,” he wrote. “We now have evidence of how Chinese firms partner with state agencies to monitor individuals and institutions globally.”

With reporting from Daniel Y. Teng