Zoom employee allegedly disrupted meetings commemorating Tiananmen Square massacre

A complaint and arrest warrant were unsealed in federal court, according to the US Department of Justice.

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3 min read

A former Zoom employee allegedly worked to censor users.

Angela Lang/CNET

A US federal court on Friday charged a China-based former  Zoom employee with disrupting meetings held to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, the Department of Justice said in a release. He allegedly worked with the Chinese government to target dissidents.

A complaint and arrest warrant for Xinjiang Jin, also known as "Julien Jin," were unsealed in federal court in Brooklyn. Jin isn't in US custody, the DOJ said. If convicted, he could face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

The DOJ release doesn't include the name of the videoconferencing company, but in a statement, a Zoom representative said the company "has been fully cooperating with [the DOJ] in this matter," and has been "conducting a thorough internal investigation." Bloomberg also said a person familiar with the matter confirmed the company is Zoom. 

The meetings were held in May and June using Zoom, the DOJ said, and were organized and hosted by people in the US. During its investigation, Zoom said, it learned the former employee "violated Zoom's policies by, among other things, attempting to circumvent certain internal access controls." The employee also committed actions that led to several meetings and accounts being terminated, and "shared or directed the sharing of a limited amount of individual user data with Chinese authorities." 

The Zoom representative noted that at this point in the investigation, "and with the exception of user data for fewer than ten individual users," the company doesn't believe Jin or other Zoom employees provided user data of non-China-based users to the Chinese government. Jin also allegedly may have shared meeting information for a Tiananmen Square remembrance, though there's no indication any enterprise data was shared with China's government, according to Zoom. The company said it fired Jin for violating company policies, and other employees have been put on administrative leave amid the ongoing investigation.

"We have taken actions to make our values clear," the Zoom representative said. "We issued our Government Requests Guide in July, through which we subject any government request to a careful review, prioritizing the privacy,  security , and safety of our users at all times.... We have also ceased the sale of direct and online services in China and launched engineering hubs in the United States, India, and Singapore. We will continue to act aggressively to anticipate and combat ever-evolving data security challenges."

According to the complaint, Jin was Zoom's primary liaison with Chinese law enforcement and intelligence services, and therefore responded to requests from the Chinese government to provide information and to cut off Zoom video calls. Jin allegedly shared information with the government about users and meetings, and sometimes gave data such as IP addresses, names and email addresses of users based outside of China. In addition, he monitored Zoom for what the Chinese government deems "illegal" meetings to discuss political and religious subjects, the DOJ said. 

The complaint also notes that starting in January 2019, Jin and others allegedly conspired to use Zoom's systems in the US to censor political and religious speech of users around the world at the direction of officials in China's government. One of those actions included terminating at least four Zoom meetings commemorating the 31st anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Jin's co-conspirators also allegedly made fake email accounts and Zoom accounts in other people's names to create false evidence that hosts and participants in these commemoration meetings supported terrorist organizations, incited violence or shared child pornography. According to the complaint, the false evidence claimed participants would discuss these kinds of topics during the meetings. Jin then allegedly used that to convince Zoom executives in the US to terminate meetings and to suspend or terminate the accounts of meeting hosts. 

Chinese authorities used information from Jin to retaliate against participants or their family members in China, the DOJ said. For instance, they allegedly temporarily detained someone who was going to speak at a commemoration meeting.