- Early this month, the Chinese-only website of Zhenhua Data Information Technology Co, the company monitoring foreign targets, was pulled down.
WHAT DOES ZHENHUA DATA DO?
- It targets individuals and institutions in politics, government, business, technology, media, and civil society. Claiming to work with Chinese intelligence, military and security agencies, Zhenhua monitors the subject’s digital footprint across social media platforms, maintains an “information library,” which includes content not just from news sources, forums, but also from papers, patents, bidding documents, even positions of recruitment.
- Significantly, it builds a “relational database”, which records and describes associations between individuals, institutions, and information. Collecting such massive data and weaving in public or sentiment analysis around these targets, Zhenhua offers “threat intelligence services.”
- Domestic security agencies use such data for law and order applications such as tracking protests but in the hands of foreign agencies with no supervision or oversight, such data can serve a range of purposes.
- Seemingly innocuous granular information may be put together in a broader framework for deliberate tactical maneuvering.
SO, WHAT’S HYBRID WARFARE?
- As early as 1999, Unrestricted Warfare, a publication by China’s People’s Liberation Army, mapped the contours of hybrid warfare, a shift in the arena of violence from military to political, economic and technological.
- The new weapons in this war closely linked to the lives of the common people. The unipolar moment that has persisted since the fall of the Soviet Union has given rise to an international system in which unconventional challenges to the idea of traditional state-on-state war are increasingly prevalent.
- Every second country is giving hybrid warfare a shot since the Russian breakthrough in 2014-15 (annexation of Crimea and undeclared conflict in eastern Ukraine). But few match China’s capability as we have seen during the Hong Kong protests last year.
- Apart from the increased effectiveness and lethality of non-state actors within hybrid war, the symbiotic relationship between sponsor and client is another variable that differentiates modern hybrid war from traditional forms of conflict. The Syrian Civil War and spread of Islamic State (IS) presents a complex strategic challenge to Iran and Hezbollah as modern hybrid war practitioners
DOES THIS MONITORING FLOUT ANY LAWS IN INDIA?
- Under the Information Technology Rules, 2011, under the IT Act, 2000, personal data is - any information regarding a natural person, which either directly or indirectly, in combination with other information available or likely to be available which is capable of identifying such person. This, however, does not include information available freely or accessible in the public domain.
WHAT’S THE CONCERN OVER ZHINHUA’S MONITORING?
- As flare-ups intensified along the Line of Actual Control, India blocked, incrementally since June, over 100 Chinese apps for engaging in activities prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order. But such moves are unlikely to impact an operation like Zhenhua’s.
- Zhenhua uses the open information environment liberal democracies take for granted to target individuals and institutions.The threat of surveillance and monitoring of foreign individuals by an authoritarian China is very real.
- Modern hybrid war that simultaneously combines conventional, irregular, and terrorist components is a complex challenge that requires an adaptable and versatile military to overcome.
- The concept of hybrid war is not new, but its means are increasingly sophisticated and deadly, and require a response in kind.