A Zoom employee based in China aided Chinese censors in spying on Chinese dissidents in the U.S. and shutting down virtual meetings around the world for violating Chinese law, according to federal prosecutors.
The Department of Justice announced on Friday that it had charged a China-based Zoom employee, known as Xinjiang Jin, with conspiracy to commit interstate harassment and unlawful conspiracy to transfer a means of identification. Prosecutors claimed that Jin used his post as Zoom’s “security technical leader” in China to provide information on certain Zoom meetings and users to the Chinese state and fabricate violations of Zoom’s terms of service to shut down meetings.
“The allegations in the complaint lay bare the Faustian bargain that the PRC government demands of U.S. technology companies doing business within the PRC’s borders, and the insider threat that those companies face from their own employees in the PRC,” acting U.S. Attorney Seth DuCharme said in a statement. “As alleged, Jin worked closely with the PRC government and members of PRC intelligence services to help the PRC government silence the political and religious speech of users of the platform of a U.S. technology company. Jin willingly committed crimes, and sought to mislead others at the company, to help PRC authorities censor and punish U.S. users’ core political speech merely for exercising their rights to free expression.”
While Zoom is not directly identified in the charging document unsealed on Friday, the company released a statement identifying itself as the one at the center of the DOJ complaint. The company noted that it had fired Jin and suspended several others as it conducted its own internal investigation into the charges.
Zoom added that it has overhauled its internal review policies and “ceased the sale of direct and online services in China and launched engineering hubs in the United States, India, and Singapore.”
Zoom assigned Jin to serve as a liaison between the company and the Chinese government after Beijing shut off the company’s service in China in September 2019. The Chinese government, controlled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), forced Zoom to adopt a “rectification plan” in order to resume its service in China.
According to the complaint, Jin spoke with CCP officials as well as top level executives at Zoom. Jin used that access to shut down Zoom meetings that broke Chinese law, which bans any speech critical of the Chinese government or the CCP.
In several alleged incidents, Jin fabricated evidence against Chinese dissidents hosting meetings commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre. Jin collected information on the hosts, including their names and IP addresses. He had agents infiltrate the meetings, then accuse the hosts of using the platform to support “terrorist organizations, [incite] violence or [distribute] child pornography,” according to the DOJ release.
“The fabricated evidence falsely asserted that the meetings included discussions of child abuse or exploitation, terrorism, racism or incitements to violence, and sometimes included screenshots of the purported participants’ user profiles featuring, for example, a masked person holding a flag resembling that of the Islamic State terrorist group,” the DOJ said. “Jin used the complaints as evidence to persuade Company-1 executives based in the United States to terminate meetings and suspend or terminate the user accounts of the meeting hosts.”
The company apologized for shutting down the meetings in June. In November, the FBI added Jin to its “Most Wanted” list.
Correction: Jin was an employee of Zoom prior to being assigned as the liaison between the company and the Chinese government. He was not hired into the role.
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