Those of us who regularly take on investigations on behalf of overseas clients will occasionally have encountered red flags when conducting due diligence in respect of prospective clients. At IPFGB, we follow ABI guidelines by automatically compiling a Data Protection Impact Assessment in respect of each case. Naturally, that takes into account not only our legitimate interest in processing the personal data of others without their consent, but also that of the potential client.
Our good friend and highly respected IP infringement investigator, Ron Alvarez, has once more warned his fellow-American PIs of a problem which has been dogging the industry there for some time. Very recently, the US Department of Justice indicted a number of people for harassing, threatening, and spying on US-resident Chinese dissidents on behalf of the Chinese government. What has emerged is of PIs in the US accepting instructions to provide background checks on Chinese victims legally living in the United States. One PI completed an OSINT profile for a $1500 fee, but was then further tasked to obtain IRS tax returns and to establish any links with the CIA or FBI; further, to dig up derogatory information and, if none existed, to invent it. The PI duly informed the FBI of the approach . . . it was established that the client was indeed an agent of the Chinese Ministry of State Security [MSS]. Ron has provided evidence that this was not an isolated case . . . in 2020, a PI and former law enforcement officer was arrested for conspiring with Chinese “foreign agents” to coerce a target to return to China.
In a press conference in March of this year, the FBI’s Assistant Director, Alan Kohler, made an official announcement to all US PIs, urging them to notify the FBI if approached by foreign governments.
So, could it be happening here in the UK? Quite simply, the answer is, “Yes.” Only last year, we at IPFGB were indirectly approached by a Chinese company, tasked to locate a sizeable number of Chinese nationals working in the UK; ostensibly as a ‘head-hunting’ exercise with a view to offering them lucrative employment. Immediately suspicious, we applied the ‘legitimate interest test’ and insisted that the potential client provided sufficient data to satisfy us that the approach was indeed warranted. As expected, the assignment instantly evaporated . . . we never heard another word from them. One was left to wonder what justifiable reason they would have produced in wanting to know where their nationals were living and working . . . other than to pressure them into spying, Was the task offered elsewhere . . . and accepted?
Dick Smith QPM
Director: IP Forensics [GB] Ltd