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A man displays an image of the Tiananmen crackdown during a vigil remembrance in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong. Photo: Miguel Candela/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A now-former Zoom executive based in China has been charged by the Justice Department with disrupting video meetings that commemorated the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, Zoom confirmed on Friday.

Why it matters: This case could shake the foundations of U.S. tech cooperation with China. Researchers and U.S. government officials have warned of the possibility that the Chinese government might require China-based employees to hand over private company data to Beijing. This indictment indicates that those fears are, in fact, a reality.

Details: Xinjiang Jin, also known as Julien 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, according to the complaint.

  • Jin allegedly provided the Chinese government with information including IP addresses, names and email addresses of users located outside of China.
  • The complaint also alleges Jin was responsible for "proactively monitoring" Zoom's platform for what Beijing considers to be "illegal” meetings that discuss "political and religious subjects unacceptable to the Chinese Communist Party."

Between the lines: The indictment doesn't reveal the name of the company, but Zoom confirmed in a blog post that it had been been "fully cooperating with the Justice Department" and launched its own internal investigation. In an incident this summer — first reported by Axios — Zoom closed the account of a group of prominent U.S.-based Chinese activists after they held a event commemorating the massacre.

  • Zoom, which has faced scrutiny over security concerns and its ties to China as its growth has massively accelerated during the pandemic, acknowledged after Axios' report that it had received a request from the Chinese government.
  • The company claimed it only took action because the Chinese government informed the company that "this activity is illegal in China." and that meeting metadata showed "a significant number of mainland China participants." Free discussion of the 1989 Tiananmen pro-democracy movement is forbidden in China.

What they're saying: "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."

Read Zoom's full statement responding to the charges.

Go deeper

Jan 27, 2021 - Technology

Facebook to downplay politics on its platform

Photo Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Wednesday said the company will dial back on pushing political groups and content to users.

Why it matters: Facebook is hoping to dim intense political pressure from conservatives and liberals by backing away from arguments it’s long made that political speech is vital to free expression.

Updated 2 hours ago - World

UK government: Kremlin has plan "to install pro-Russian leadership" in Ukraine

British Foreign Secretary Elizabeth Truss. Photo: Gints Ivuskans / AFP via Getty Images

The United Kingdom's Foreign Secretary on Saturday night said the government has "information that indicates the Russian Government is looking to install a pro-Russian leader in Kyiv as it considers whether to invade and occupy Ukraine."

Driving the news: U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne called the intelligence "deeply concerning" in a statement to Axios. The Biden administration has said Russia is actively manufacturing a pretext for invasion and warned that Putin could use joint military exercises in Belarus as cover to invade from the north.

Updated 3 hours ago - Science

This powerful new accelerator looks for keys to the center of atoms

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Nuclear physicists trying to piece together how atoms are built are about to get a powerful new tool.

Why it matters: When the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams begins experiments later this spring, physicists from around the world will use the particle accelerator to better understand the inner workings of atoms that make up all the matter that can be seen in the universe.