There is no evidence that Taiwanese travelers’ personal information was leaked by allegedly Chinese-made biometric scanners used at the nation’s three international airports, the Ministry of the Interior and the National Immigration Agency said on Sunday.
E-Gate biometric equipment, in use since 2012 at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, Kaohsiung International Airport and Taipei International Airport (Songshan airport), allows fast-track processing of frequent travelers via facial recognition and fingerprint scans.
Last month, prosecutors and anti-corruption personnel began investigating officials and contractors for allegedly circumventing government rules barring the use of Chinese-made equipment for national security-related purposes.
Experts from an unnamed national security agency are examining the e-Gate equipment, Deputy Minister of the Interior Lin Tzu-ling (林慈玲) said, adding that they have found no evidence that suggests the system was compromised by Chinese firmware.
The ministry does not believe there is a present national security risk with the e-Gate equipment, but have advised national security officials to warn the ministry immediately if and when they identify security vulnerabilities, she said.
“We cannot guarantee with absolute certainty that the system is not compromised, but we will be conducting follow-up checks of the system,” she said.
New Power Party (NPP) Legislator Hsu Yung-ming (徐永明) said there are reasons to suspect the e-Gate contractors are connected to the Chinese government’s military establishment.
“The issue is complicated by the fact that the contractors that are accused of corruption had sent personnel to Shenzhen, China, for so-called training. It is a cause for concern that the Chinese military could be attempting to infiltrate Taiwan through private contractors,” he said.
“The National Security Bureau and the Investigation Bureau must investigate the case throughly,” Hsu said.
The National Immigration Agency said the Government Procurement Act (政府採購法) and other regulations forbid contractors to use Chinese software or hardware for biometric identification equipment.
If the allegations are true, the e-Gate contractors had breached the contract and the agency will hold them accountable for contractual liabilities, which would result in fines and other penalties, the agency said.
“This incident has grave implications. The government should go beyond the judicial investigation and have the executive agencies start internal investigations to get to the truth,” Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Chao Tien-lin (趙天麟) said.
DPP Legislator Chen Chi-mai (陳其邁) said he is to demand the Ministry of the Interior explain why Chinese products were used in sensitive equipment that might have compromised national information security.
The e-Gate’s procurement cost the public an estimated NT$52 million (US$1.73 million).
The Taipei District Prosecutors’ Office and the Agency Against Corruption on Nov. 13 questioned the people implicated in the scandal and searched their offices.
Transtep Technology Group owner Lee Chi-shen (李奇申) and the then-immigration agency Official Shih Ming-te (施明德) were released on bail of NT$1 million each.
The authorities said Lee and Shih are suspected of offering and taking bribes, in addition to violating the Anti-Corruption Act (貪污治罪條例) and the Government Procurement Act.
Lee Chi-shen claimed his software costs less and has fewer hardware requirements than Microsoft, IBM and Oracle’s competing proprietary systems, because it makes use of open protocols, an inside source told the Chinese-language Liberty Times (the sister-paper of Taipei Times’ sister paper).
The prosecutors suspect that Lee struck deals with multiple parties in the scheme and he might have connections to people of interest in China, the source said.
Prosecutors and anti-corruption officials discovered Lee had used Ho Fan Co as a front to obtain the bid, purchased Chinese-made equipment via Ho Fan, then falsified the manufacturer information to skirt regulations, the source said.
Additional reporting by Chen Yu-fu, Hsieh Chun-lin, Su Fang-ho and Wang Kuan-jen
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