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U.S. Officials 'Alarmed' by Zoom Cooperation With China

United States House representatives last week sent a letter to Zoom to demand explanation for the communication platform’s decision to close the accounts of U.S.-based Chinese activists.

Last week, Zoom confirmed that, at the request of the Chinese government to block four June 4 meetings that were illegal in the country, it closed the accounts of three individuals located outside China, namely Lee Cheuk-yan, Wang Dan, and Zhou Fengsuo.

The company says that, after being informed by the Chinese government of the meetings, it investigated the claims, and decided to take action against three of the meetings by suspending the host accounts, one in Hong Kong SAR and two in the U.S.

Zoom, which claims to have terminated the accounts to abide “local law,” says it shut down the meetings because it did not have the possibility to block attendees by country, but also notes that the accounts have since been reinstated.

Following these actions, Energy and Commerce Committee Republican Leader Greg Walden (R-OR) and Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee Republican Leader Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) sent a letter to Zoom, to question the video communication platform’s data privacy practices and its relation with the People’s Republic of China and the Chinese Communist Party.

“Zoom’s recent actions and acquiescence to China raise serious concerns about your data practices, including how you protect information you collect on Americans and, importantly, who you grant access to such information,” the two representatives said.

The Chinese activists, they argue, were commemorating the 31st anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, but the Chinese government forbids free discussion of the 1989 Tiananmen pro-democracy movement.

Zoom’s willingness to collaborate with the Chinese government, the Committee leaders wrote, is alarming, especially since researchers found Zoom encryption keys on servers in China, and the company admitted that data on users had been routed through China earlier this year.

“As a U.S.-based company, please cite the ‘local law’ you claim to have complied with to justify suppressing the free speech of U.S.-based Chinese activists and identify the date on which you reinstated the accounts of such activists,” the two representatives wrote.

The lawmakers also demand explanations from Zoom on what type of information it collects on Americans, how it does it, why, and for what purpose, and whether it shares that information with third parties and for what purposes.

They ask the video conferencing platform to reveal whether it shares any data it collects on Americans with the Chinese Communist Party or Chinese state-owned entities, whether it has data sharing agreements with the Chinese, if such information is maintained and stored in China, and to identify other examples where Zoom has taken directions from the Chinese government.

“Please identify each country Zoom sends, maintains, or stores information collected on Americans. For each country, please identify whether the government or an entity on behalf of such government has access to such information,” the letter continues.

Furthermore, they request Zoom to say whether it provides encrypted communications and to detail the protection measures it has taken to keep user data secure during the COVID-19 pandemic and whether it has altered in any way content that “runs counter to the official line of the Chinese government in response to its handling of the COVID-19 crisis.”

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