A senior Zoom employee falsely accused users of supporting terrorism and distributing child sexual abuse material in an effort to stop them from talking about the Tiananmen Square massacre, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
In a lengthy criminal complaint, the DOJ details how the employee, Xinjiang Jin, worked to spy on and censor Zoom users across the globe. Notably, the complaint doesn’t mention the popular videoconferencing company by name, however, it is clear from the document that Zoom is the company in question.
As an accompanying DOJ press release makes clear, Jin is accused of reporting straight to People’s Republic of China intelligence services. His plot allegedly revolved around Zoom meetings planned for the summer of 2020. The intention of the meetings was to commemorate the June 4, 1989, Tiananmen Square massacre.
At least some of the meetings were shut down by Zoom, and in a statement to the Guardian the company simply claimed it was following the law.
“We regret that a few recent meetings with participants both inside and outside of China were negatively impacted and important conversations were disrupted,” the company said at the time.
When reached for comment about Friday’s allegations, a Zoom spokesperson replied the company is “reviewing the filing” and would get back to us. After the publication of this article, Zoom sent a statement — and linked to a newly published blog post — which confirmed many of the DOJ’s allegations.
“We terminated this individual’s employment for violating company policies,” reads the statement in part. “We have also placed other employees on administrative leave pending the completion of our investigation.”
Jin was allegedly able to get the meetings shut down by, essentially, working to frame the users. The extent and detail of the alleged campaign to make pro-Democracy activists look like criminals is, frankly, shocking.
“Jin’s co-conspirators created fake email accounts and Company-1 accounts in the names of others, including [People’s Republic of China] political dissidents, to fabricate evidence that the hosts of and participants in the meetings to commemorate the Tiananmen Square massacre were supporting terrorist organizations, inciting violence or distributing child pornography,” reads the DOJ press 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.”
What’s more, Jin is accused of handing over the names, addresses, IP addresses, and email addresses of Zoom users located outside of China to the Chinese government.
“Jin was also responsible for proactively monitoring Company-1’s video communications platform for what the PRC government considers to be ‘illegal’ meetings to discuss political and religious subjects unacceptable to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the PRC government,” continues the press release.
The allegations go beyond simply shutting down some Zoom calls and monitoring others. According to the DOJ, families were targeted by authorities in China as a result of the information Jin provided. Specifically, family members of those who had planned to dial into the call were harassed, and one person was jailed.
Notably, Jin is not in custody.
There are, of course, plenty of private videoconference options other than Zoom.
UPDATE: Dec. 18, 2020, 3:09 p.m. PST: This story was updated to include Zoom’s statement.