Report: Chinese firm collecting data on hundreds of prominent Czechs

Illustrative photo: Pexels / Pixabay CC0, Public Domain

A company linked to the Chinese army has been harvesting online data relating to several hundred high-profile Czechs, according to a report on the news site Aktuálně.cz on Wednesday. The targets include politicians and their family members, academics, diplomats and business people.

According to Aktuálně.cz, a small firm named Shenzhen Zhenhau Data Technology has been gathering online data including, social media interactions, connected to around 700 Czechs since 2017.

The company has links to China’s People’s Liberation Army.

Lukáš Valášek, one of the reporters who broke the story, offers this explanation of its possible aims.

“We can only go on what the firm advertises on their website, which is actually down today. It boasts there that it works with the Chinese army and other parts of the Chinese security apparatus. According to the firm, that data should essentially help the Chinese security apparatus to lead a hybrid war against the West, including therefore the Czech Republic.”

Lukáš Valášek,  photo: archive of Czech Radio

The Washington Post, one of Aktuálně’s partners in an investigation involving media organisations around the globe, reports that the “Overseas Key Individuals Database” kept tabs on over two million people.

The database leaked when a Chinese whistleblower close to the company approached a US academic, who had previously worked at Beijing University, and then fled China for his own safety.

Among those in the dataset are around 700 Czechs, mainly in prominent public positions. These range from President Miloš Zeman to people in business and academic circles. Lukáš Valášek continues.

“The list includes ministers. For instance, the minister of defence, Lubomír Metnar, and the former minister of justice, Robert Pelikán. Also there is the ANO party number two, Jaroslav Faltýnek. I should point out however that we’ve got 700 names at our disposal, but this is very likely not the complete number of people from the Czech Republic. Experts have managed to restore only part of the database that leaked, so other people may be there that we’re unaware of. I should also say that the list includes relatives – children, parents, partners, etc. – of people from the Czech Republic.”

In fact only around one tenth of the names on the original database have been accessed to date, Aktuálně.cz reported.

The head of the Czech BIS counterintelligence service told the news site that it has begun looking into the matter.

“In a rare statement, the Security Information Service told us that it was already analysing this data and didn’t want to draw any premature conclusions; nevertheless, if the situation is as we have written, then it only confirms their previous warnings against the Chinese influence in the Czech Republic. Incidentally, the director of BIS, Michal Koudelka, is among the monitored persons contained on the list.”

The Czech counterintelligence has previously warned that Chinese influence campaigns pose a major threat to national security.