The U.S Justice Department on Friday charged a China-based Zoom executive with disrupting video meetings commemorating the 31st anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.
Xinjiang Jin, 39, also known as Julien Jin, was accused of providing the Chinese government with information including IP addresses, names and email addresses of users located outside of China.
The software engineer was also accused of being responsible for “proactively monitoring” Zoom’s platform for what China considers to be “illegal” meetings that discuss “political and religious subjects unacceptable to the Chinese Communist Party.”
If convicted, Xinjiang Jin faces up to 10 years in prison.
The latest development could shake the foundations of U.S. tech cooperation with China. Officials of the U.S government have warned of the possibility that the Chinese government might require China-based employees to hand over private company data to Beijing.
Jin has been conspiring since January 2019 to use his company’s systems to censor speech, the U.S. Department of Justice said.
According to the complaint, Jin served as Zoom’s “primary liaison” with Chinese law enforcement and intelligence services, regularly responding to requests from Beijing “for information and to terminate video meetings” hosted on the company’s video platform.
“The allegations in the complaint lay bare the Faustian bargain that the [People’s Republic of China] government demands of U.S. technology companies doing business within the PRC’s borders, and the insider threat that those companies face from their own employees in the PRC,” acting U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn Seth DuCharme said in a statement.
“Jin willingly committed crimes, and sought to mislead others at the company, to help PRC authorities censor and punish U.S. users’ core political speech merely for exercising their rights to free expression,” DuCharme continued.
“The charges announced today make clear that employees working in the PRC for U.S. technology companies make those companies—and their users—vulnerable to the malign influence of the PRC government.”
Zoom said in a statement it fired Jin and has placed other employees on leave. The company said it had been fully cooperating with the Justice Department.
“We support the U.S. Government’s commitment to protect American interests from foreign influence. As the DOJ notes, Zoom has been fully cooperating with them in this matter”, Zoom said in a blog post.
The American videoconferencing firm, which has experienced tremendous growth since the pandemic, has faced increasing scrutiny over security concerns based on its ties to China amid U.S-China economic issues.