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Police target high-tech-related personal data crimes

By YANG ZEKUN | | Updated: 2023-08-11 00:01
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Senior Chinese cybersecurity police officers said on Thursday that strengthened efforts are being made to combat sources of personal information infringement involving the use of the latest technologies such as artificial intelligence and cloud computing.

Sun Jinfeng, political commissar of the Ministry of Public Security's Bureau of Network Security Protection, said the number of cases involving the infringement of citizens' personal information has significantly increased over the past two years.

Since 2020, public security organs nationwide have solved 36,000 such cases and detained 64,000 suspects. Furthermore, the ministry has seized more than 30 million SIM cards used for illegal purposes and frozen over 300 million online platform accounts.

Sun also noted that the cases of personal information infringement have occurred across an increasingly diverse range of sectors, from healthcare, education and real estate to logistics and e-commerce.

Meanwhile, a series of abhorrent illicit operations, such as telecom fraud, harassing calls and online paid posting, have emerged, he said.

"Crimes related to personal information infringement have become a 'breeding ground' for illicit industries, severely jeopardizing citizens' personal rights and property safety, as well as disrupting the country's normal economic and social order," he said.

Criminals often obtain personal information through various means, including fraud, theft, illegal collection and reselling, according to Huang Xiaosu, technology director of the ministry's Bureau of Network Security Protection.

One prominent emerging example of infringement involves manipulating existing personal data by combining various data sources to generate new information. An example of this type of violation, as emphasized by Huang, is using AI technology to create dynamic facial recognition data from preexisting images.

Li Tong, deputy head of the Bureau of Network Security Protection, emphasized that crimes related to facial recognition and verification are linked to the misuse of technologies such as facial recognition and artificial intelligence.

Criminals primarily exploit materials such as photos, especially identity card photos, and combine people's names and ID numbers to deceive facial recognition verification systems, Li added.

Collaborating with key State laboratories, public security organs have conducted security assessments using facial recognition and anti-spoofing technology. The agencies have identified the risks and vulnerabilities of the facial recognition verification system in key applications, including instant messaging, online broadcasting, e-commerce platforms and financial transactions, and informed their operators to make upgrades, said Li.

According to the ministry, police have also solved 79 cases of AI face alteration and arrested 515 suspects.

In May, a man surnamed Feng in Shandong province fell victim to an AI face-swapping scam. A fraudster tricked him by impersonating a relative using the technology during a video call.

Convinced of the swindler's "authenticity", Hong transferred a total of 300,000 yuan ($41,600) to the designated account before realizing he had been scammed. Upon contacting the police, they were able to trace the transactions and apprehend three suspects in Guangdong. The case is still under investigation and legal proceedings are ongoing.

Another typical example of personal information infringement involves insiders from certain industries illegally disclosing personal information.

About 2,300 such "insiders" in industries such as telecommunications, hospitals, insurance companies, real estate, property management and express delivery have been arrested since 2020, according to the ministry.

For example, police in Shandong's Jinan received reports of victims getting nuisance calls from a photo studio promoting its children-related photography business.

The studio owner initially obtained people's personal information from employees of local companies offering domestic services, maternal and baby products, as well as health and medical institutions. Subsequently, the studio hired individuals to make harassing marketing calls.

The owner sold the illegally obtained personal information again to maternity centers, insurance companies and other institutions for profit. In April, police arrested eight suspects and seized around 2 million yuan in funds. The case is under further investigation.

Sun, the political commissar, emphasized the importance of all sectors of society working together to fight illegal activities involving personal information infringement. The public should increase their awareness of personal information protection and deny criminals any opportunities.

Relevant companies should enhance their sense of responsibility, implement security measures and regulate the collection and use of such information.

In collaboration with courts, procuratorates, cyberspace administration, and industry and information departments, public security organs have cracked down on crimes related to illegal information acquisition and reselling, and related downstream criminal activities, Sun added.

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