Taiwan’s security director went to Thailand in July to meet with local intelligence officials. An ordinary visit, however, what caught the attention of several Taiwanese local media is that private information about the official’s itinerary, even when he was going through immigration, was published on the internet.

Taiwanese media, Liberty Times published that this kind of data leak from an intelligence official were absolutely abnormal. It also cited information from official sources, which pointed to the Chinese company Hikvision as the alleged source of the leaked confidential data.

Taiwan experts commented that since a Chinese company was involved, this could indicate that it was infiltrated by the Chinese Communist Party.

The director of national security, Chen Ming-Tong, traveled to Thailand in July for several meetings with intelligence officials. A few days ago, the information was posted on social media, detailing the hotel stay, along with all the names of Chen’s entourage.

The Liberty Times reported that the leaked images came from Bangkok International Airport’s closed-circuit camera system, which is run by Hikvision, SKY IC, and other surveillance systems. These CCTVs employ facial recognition technology with artificial intelligence, and have the ability to track people in different locations.

As reported by Taiwan News, several rumors surfaced on social networks questioning the intentions behind Chen’s trip, the highest authority of Taiwan’s intelligence services.

These rumors claimed that Chen went to Thailand sightseeing at the expense of the Taiwanese people. Information about his alleged arrival time, details of his accommodations, and his photo taken at immigration were posted on various online platforms earlier this month, raising fears that Taiwan’s security apparatus had been compromised.

On September 12, Taiwan’s top national security bureau, the NSB, said all those rumors were untrue, however, it did not provide further information about the official’s trip. In a terse statement posted on its website, it stated, “The activities of NSB staff have never been disclosed to the public; as for media reports that the office director’s visit to Thailand was exposed, no further comment will be made.”

Taiwan experts and analysts have pointed out that the modus operandi for exposing Chen’s photos and other details are a clear and disturbing message to the Taiwan government from the Chinese Communist Party. The first photos were posted on a Twitter account, which turned out to be fake. Other accounts that participated in the dissemination of the photos, had geolocations from other countries, and linked to Chinese embassies abroad.

Which Chinese video surveillance company is behind the leaks?

One of the companies implicated in the alleged leaks is Hikvision, a Chinese video surveillance company that has a history of close collaboration with the Chinese Communist Party.

Hikvision is one of the largest companies in the world. Founded in 2001, it had an accelerated growth after the September 11 attack in the United States. In 2007 it began to market its own closed-circuit video cameras, and today it offers a wide range of products, from software and hardware and much more competitive prices in the international market.

Most of the company’s founders belong to China Electronics Technology Group Corporation, a Chinese state-owned company that manufactures products for civilian and military use. 

Hikvision sells surveillance equipment and cameras to most Western governments. Among the products in demand are cameras for road traffic control and complete facial recognition systems. In 2021, the company sold services worth more than $3 billion to customers outside China.

Research by Top10VPN shows that Hikvision’s Chinese surveillance camera networks number more than 4 million in 191 countries.

The United States is the top country in the world with the most Hikvision cameras, followed by Vietnam. London has more than 50,000 surveillance camera networks. In February, Reuters published an exclusive report showing that 28 out of 32 London councils used technologies supplied by Hikvision.

In the 2020 annual report, the company stated, “Hikvision has established 19 overseas operation centers, with 66 branches under its care … serving 155 countries and regions.”

In 2019, the United States “blacklisted” Hikvision, citing serious national security concerns over the company’s collaboration with the Chinese military. The company denied being linked to the People’s Liberation Army, however, in the 2020 annual report, Hikvision claimed to be under the control of China Electronics Technology Group. This company is one of the largest in China’s military industry and all military industrial conglomerates must obey the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Several executive members of the company are part of the Chinese Communist Party. One of them, Chen Zongnian, is chairman of Hikvision’s executive board and also a representative of the CCP within the company. In addition, all operations are supervised by a committee appointed by and under the order of the CCP.

China Electronics Technology Group is a state-owned conglomerate and Hikvision is under its control. China Electronics is the only industrial conglomerate that produces electronic components for the Chinese military, including telecommunications, radar technology, software, and control and monitoring systems.

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