Union Minister of External Affairs S Jaishankar has written a letter to Congress leader KC Venugopal, telling him that the government has taken up with the Chinese envoy to India reports of snooping on some Indian leaders by China-based companies, PTI reported. An expert panel has also been constituted to look into such surveillance.

“Replying to my zero-hour intervention on Chinese surveillance, External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar informed us that the Govt has taken the matter seriously and constituted an expert committee to assess this within 30 days,” Venugopal tweeted. “We expect quick action on this.” The government has formed the panel under the National Cyber Security coordinator to study reports of surveillance of Indians by Chinese firm Zhenhua Data, according to ANI.

“The matter was taken up by the Ministry of External Affairs with the Chinese ambassador today,” Jaishankar wrote to Venugopal. “Our embassy in Beijing also raised it with the Foreign Ministry of China. The Chinese side conveyed that Shenzhen Zhenhua is a private company and had stated its position publicly. In their part, the Chinese Foreign ministry maintained that there was no connection between the company concerned and the Chinese government.”

During Zero Hour in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday, Venugopal had alleged that some Indian leaders were being spied on by Chinese companies and asked the government what it was doing in this regard. Jaishankar said in his letter that a representative of Shenzhen Zhenhua said the data collected was from open sources and is no different from its peer organisations in western countries. The minister said Shenzhen Zhenhua rejected the allegation that they collected the information from confidential sources.

“The Government of India takes very seriously the protection of the privacy and personal data of Indian citizens,” Jaishankar wrote. “It is deeply concerned at any report that suggests that foreign sources are accessing or seeking to access the personal data of our citizens without their consent.”

Venugopal had alleged in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday that the company, which has links to the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese government, is tracking over 10,000 Indians. “This includes the President, Vice-President, Prime Minister, Opposition leader, Army Chief and MPs,” he said. “This is a major area of concern. I want to know from the government if it has taken note of it. If so, what actions have been taken?”

The Congress had on Tuesday given an adjournment motion notice in Lok Sabha after The Indian Express reported that a Shenzhen-based technology company with links to the Chinese government is monitoring over 10,000 Indian individuals and organisations in its global database of “foreign targets”. According to the report, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, President Ram Nath Kovind, Congress interim chief Sonia Gandhi and Chief Justice of India Sharad A Bobde are among those being monitored by the Overseas Key Information DataBase developed by Zhenhua Data.

India-China tension

Military heads of India and China have engaged in several rounds of talks over the last three months after 20 Indian and unknown number of Chinese soldiers were killed in violent clashes in Galwan Valley in Ladakh on June 15. But these talks have failed to break the impasse.

On June 29, India banned 59 Chinese-linked apps, citing security concerns. On July 27, it prohibited 47 clones of Chinese apps. Early in September, the Indian government also banned popular game PUBG and 117 other Chinese apps. The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said in a press release that it had reports to show that the apps were “engaged in activities prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India and security and the security of state and public order”.