Three U.S. lawmakers question Zoom Video Communications Inc’s links with Chinese government

Following a statement from California-based Zoom Video Communications Inc wherein it said it had suspended user accounts to meet demands from China, three U.S. lawmakers have asked Zoom to clarify its data-collection practices as well as its relationship with the Chinese government.

Zoom’s action has come under heavy scrutiny after three U.S. and Hong Kong-based activists stated their accounts had been suspended and their meetings disrupted after they tried to hold events related to the anniversary of China’s Tiananmen Square crackdown.

On Friday, Zoom said it was notified of the events and was asked to take action by the Chinese government in May and early June. It said, it has since reinstated these accounts and will not allow further requests from China to affect users outside the country.

“We did not provide any user information or meeting content to the Chinese government,” said Zoom in a statement. “We do not have a backdoor that allows someone to enter a meeting without being visible.”

Zoom’s online meeting platform has seen downloads surge in China.

Unlike Twitter or Facebook, Zoom’s service is not blocked in China where the government is known to heavily censor and monitor content.

On Thursday, Twitter said it had removed accounts tied to a Beijing-backed influence operation.

Representatives Greg Walden, the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the ranking member of a consumer subcommittee, have sent a letter to Zoom CEO Eric Yuan asking him to clarify the company’s data practices, whether any was shared with Beijing and whether it encrypted users’ communications.

Republican Senator Josh Hawley also wrote to Yuan asking him to “pick a side” between the United States and China.

All three lawmakers have previously deep expressed concerns over the ownership of China’s TikTok – Chinese firm ByteDancem, which is currently under the lends of U.S. regulators over the sharing of personal data it handles.

“We appreciate the outreach we have received from various elected officials and look forward to engaging with them,” said Zoom’s spokesman.

Wang Dan, a U.S.-based dissident and exiled student leader of the crushed 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, had his Zoom account suspended. He said, he was absolutely shocked to hear that Zoom has acknowledged that it had interrupted meetings he was participating in. Wang’s June 3 event with around 200 participants was deactivated midstream.

“Zoom compiled with China’s request, preventing us from going about our lives smoothly,” said Wang. “It cannot get away with just a statement. We shall continue to use legal means and public opinion to ask Zoom to take responsibility for its mistake.”

In a statement Zoom said, it is currently developing technology which will enable it to remove or block participants based on their geographical location, thus allowing it to comply with requests from local authorities. It is aiming to publish an updated global policy on June 30.

Zoom’s links with China have been called into question before.

According to Toronto-based internet watchdog Citizen Lab, in April 2020 it had found evidence that some calls made in North America, as well as the encryption keys used to secure those calls, were routed through China.

In a statement Zoom said, it had mistakenly allowed Chinese data centers to accept calls.

On Friday, Bill Bishop, editor of the China-focused Sinocism news letter wrote, “Zoom should no longer get the benefit of the doubt over its China-related issues and given how many people, organizations, government bodies and political campaigns now rely on its services the company must err on the side of transparency.”

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