Leading universities throughout Australia have been accused of serving to the Chinese Communist Party develop mass surveillance and army applied sciences.
The claims made on Monday evening add to rising concern inside Australian intelligence companies that universities are placing nationwide safety in danger.
In an explosive report, the nationwide ABC tv programme Four Corners additionally identified that some Australian universities at the moment are collaborating with Chinese corporations which have been blacklisted by America due to their potential dangers to United States safety.
National safety compromised
Meantime, Australian safety officers have additionally warned that such joint analysis tasks may compromise nationwide intelligence gathering.
They refer notably to a worldwide data-mining firm known as Global Tone Communication, often known as GTCOM, that’s majority owned by the Chinese authorities and which publicly highlights its hyperlinks to Australian universities.
The ABC investigation for the programme “Are Australian universities putting our national security at risk by working with China?” uncovered in depth collaborations between Australian universities and Chinese corporations concerned in ‘Beijing’s more and more international surveillance equipment’.
“At least two of those companies and organisations have been blacklisted in the past week by the US government, which concluded that they were implicated in human rights abuses against China’s Muslim minorities,” ABC reporters stated.
One main group that has secured a foothold in Australia is GTCOM, and the ABC report revealed that GTCOM had signed a memorandum of understanding with the University of New South Wales to check its know-how.
“GTCOM has boasted of being able to mine data in 65 languages at a rate of 16,000 words per second from websites and social media, and spruiked [promoted] its connections with multiple Australian universities,” the ABC investigation discovered.
Senior Australian safety officers say the corporate’s actions are “evidence that Beijing is running a global espionage operation through technology companies”.
China’s safety pursuits
Dr Samantha Hoffman, an analyst with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, spent months uncovering GTCOM’s international and Australian connections.
She says the corporate’s intent is to help the Chinese Communist Party’s safety pursuits.
“Whether it contributes to a state security product or propaganda or military intelligence, all of the data they’re collecting can then be turned into information that supports those objectives,” Hoffman says. “So that immediately raises red flags.”
Professor John Fitzgerald, who has served as a chair on the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Australia-China Council, stated Chinese corporations had been capitalising on Australia’s science and know-how experience.
But Australia’s priorities in these fields had been being set by the Chinese authorities as a result of “we enter into collaborations that have really been designed to support China’s goals, not ours”, Fitzgerald stated.
“Many universities are very happy to proceed with whatever it is … because of the money and prestige involved,” he stated. “There’s a possibility, however, that some of this research will go towards uses which could place Australia at risk.”
No affect on UNSW
A spokesperson for the University of New South Wales (UNSW) stated GTCOM had “no influence on any of UNSW’s programmes”.
“The university … is keen to pursue greater transparency as well as increased [Australian] government collaboration … to ensure its operations are always in line with the national interest,” he stated.
But GTCOM additionally shares know-how and information with the Chinese tech big Huawei, which is now blacklisted by the US. Huawei can also be banned in Australia from changing into concerned with the nation’s new 5G transmission community due to safety and espionage considerations.
Huawei, nevertheless, additionally has a strategic partnership with the Chinese firm Haiyun Data, that gives know-how for the surveillance of minority ethnic Muslim Uyghurs in China’s Xinjiang province.
Partnering with UTS
In January, Chinese media reported on Haiyun Data’s announcement of a brand new joint synthetic intelligence laboratory with the University of Technology Sydney (UTS).
Professor Jie Lu, UTS affiliate dean and director of its Centre for Artificial Intelligence, was pictured in Chinese media holding a signed settlement with Haiyun Data.
Lu was final month awarded a AU$3.2 million (US$2.2 million) fellowship from the Australian Research Council for a undertaking to allow synthetic intelligence to be taught autonomously from information.
But UTS informed the Four Corners’ editors that there was no joint laboratory and the Chinese media reporting was “a complete misrepresentation”.
However, it confirmed that the college did have a analysis undertaking with Haiyun Data to develop know-how for handwriting recognition.
Alastair MacGibbon, a former head of the Australian Cyber Security Centre on the secretive Australian Signals Directorate, stated universities wanted to know the implications of their worldwide analysis offers.
“If it’s a firm that’s backed by a regime … and it’s engaging in what could be developments that help suppress people, then that’s a dangerous thing,” MacGibbon stated.
Hoffman stated it appeared as if Haiyun Data had constructed a relationship with students at UTS.
“But we also know that UTS seems to have signed other agreements that raise major red flags,” she stated.
In July, UTS launched a overview right into a separate AU$10 million (US$6.7 million) deal for a high-tech analysis centre funded by a Chinese state-owned army firm, China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (CETC).
CETC has additionally been implicated within the mass monitoring of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, however UTS denies its analysis has contributed to their surveillance.
Under the 2017 deal, CETC funded a number of tasks, together with one targeted on public safety video evaluation.
Four Corners producers had been informed the college was abandoning that undertaking and two others concerned with CETC due to considerations raised by Australia’s Department of Defence.
The college’s overview of the CETC deal advisable a variety of areas the place UTS ought to enhance its danger administration practices and scrutiny. These included “more detailed analysis and documentation of subsidiaries of organisations involved in collaborative research”.
Chinese corporations blacklisted by the US
ABC researchers stated they’d recognized different analysis collaborations between Australian universities and Chinese corporations which have been just lately blacklisted by the US authorities.
They alleged that teachers from the University of Adelaide have labored with a senior determine at a high-tech Chinese start-up known as Megvii on know-how to trace automobiles in movies.
But the corporate can also be a frontrunner in facial recognition know-how and has now been added to the US blacklist after being implicated in human rights abuses.
A spokesperson for Megvii informed ABC: “We try to ensure that our technology is not used for damaging purposes.”
However, a spokesman for the University of Adelaide stated that the college “has not collaborated with Megvii, either formally or informally”. He informed University World News that one of many college’s researchers labored with a bunch of different researchers on a undertaking, considered one of whom later went on to work for Megvii.
“We don’t believe the ABC’s claim is justified,” he stated.
At the University of Sydney, scientists have collaborated with Chinese video surveillance big SenseTime to assist it observe transferring objects by a number of digicam frames.
But SenseTime was additionally blacklisted by the US authorities in mid-October over human rights considerations. In response, the college stated the SenseTime partnership was topic to ongoing overview.
Australian universities have additionally collaborated with Chinese defence universities, together with researchers on the Australian National University who’ve labored on dozens of such tasks.
These embody a 2019 research on covert communications with China’s National University of Defense Technology, which itself was blacklisted by the US 4 years in the past.
The research authors stated their work may have army purposes, together with “for a stealth fighter … to be able to hide itself from enemies while communicating with its military bases”.
Australian National University Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt informed the Four Corners programme he was not conscious of the research. But he stated that if there have been particular areas of analysis that had been detrimental to the nationwide curiosity, “we need to look at them”.
Last August, Australia’s Education Minister Dan Tehan introduced he would set up a universities taskforce to research overseas interference on the nation’s campuses.
Tehan stated he believed this had reached “unprecedented levels”.
“We want to make sure it’s very clear what the responsibilities of universities are when it comes to collaborating with any foreign government, because it’s incredibly important … that collaboration is in Australia’s interests,” he stated.
This article was up to date on 16 October to incorporate the University of Adelaide’s denial of any collaboration with Megvii.