TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- Biometric equipment used in Taiwan's e-Gate border control system was manufactured by the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) with pre-installed backdoors that provide the Chinese military organization with private data on Taiwanese citizens, representing a serious security crisis for Taiwan, according to sources who spoke to Liberty Times.
According to the report, the CASIC, formerly the 5th Academy of the Ministry of Defense, sold the automated border control (ABC) system used in Taiwan's three major airport e-Gates to Taiwanese manufactures at a discount in order to entice them to buy its hardware laced with malicious firmware, with the objective of covertly gathering private data on people using the system.
The Agency Against Corruption and other government agencies involved in the investigation have not yet commented on the latest allegations. However the National Immigration Agency stressed that the Executive Yuan's security department and the National Security Bureau have completed security checks on the system and have yet to find any suspicious backdoor programs or a leakage of data.
Two of the individuals under investigation for their relation to the purchase of the ABC system are; Shih Ming-te (施明德), who is the former head of the NIA's Information Division, and the current Information Center Director in the Ministry of the Interior; and Chen Ying-Cheih (陳英傑), a former NIA section chief.
They are suspected of a possible a bid-rigging arrangement and possible collusive tendering related to the purchase of, and bids to operate the ABC system, according to the CNA.
A Taiwanese company, headed by Lee Chi-shen (李奇申) was reportedly awarded the bid for operation of the ABC system by Shih. Lee's corporation, the Transtep Technology Group, provides biometric security solutions that are sourced from China.
According to the report, law enforcement officials suspect Lee offered Shih financial benefits in exchange for the award to Lee's company.
Lee is suspected to have secret connections with individuals in China and to have sent some of his personnel to the Shenzhen Academy of Aerospace Technology for "training," which may have further compromised the border security system.
Experts worry that private and potentially sensitive data about Taiwanese citizens may have been compromised via the Transtep Technology Group's information systems, which would be a serious breach of national security.
Implemented at airports and harbors in January 2012, Taiwan's e-Gate system uses facial and fingerprint recognition technology to identify travelers entering and leaving the country.
The automated immigration clearance system is open to Taiwanese citizens over the age of 14 and foreign nationals who hold Alien Resident Certificates (ARCs) or Diplomatic Identification Cards. Citizens of China, Hong Kong, and Macau with exit and entry resident permits are also eligible for the e-Gate service. Therefore, if such a backdoor exists, not only Taiwanese, but also foreign residents could have their private data now in the hands of the Chinese government.
In October 2017, the government announced that it would be introducing electronic ID cards starting in 2018.
On Nov. 11, Taiwan News published an editorial by Luis Ko about the logistical reasons why pursuing an eID at this point in time is not in the best interests of Taiwan.
Ko stated so long as the Taiwan government can "not fulfill preconditions to safeguard information safety, then it should not be issuing electronic identity cards to be used by the public."
In related news, President Tsai outlined a new strategic initiative on Monday Dec. 11 to bolster Taiwan's digital security infrastructure.