Amid growing concerns about China’s expanding international data-gathering apparatus, a newly split US Congress is again examining the possibility that imported Chinese technology could be a Trojan horse.
In a letter to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration made available exclusively to WIRED, Rep. August Pfluger asks some tough questions about whether Washington is truly prepared for the safety threat posed by the imminent influx of Chinese-made smart and autonomous vehicles Vehicles (AVs) arises ) in the United States.
“I remain concerned that a lack of U.S. oversight of AV technology has opened the door for a foreign nation to spy on American soil, given the potential for Chinese companies to transmit critical data to the People’s Republic of China,” Pfluger writes.
While AV technology may still be a few years away from widespread commercial use, pilot projects are already hitting the streets around the world. Earlier this year, more than 1,000 AutoX autonomous taxis were on the streets of California. AutoX, a Chinese startup backed by one of the communist country’s largest state-owned auto companies, received regulatory approval from California in 2020.
Since US regulators have given these test projects the green light, Pfluger writes, “remains a serious lack of oversight over their data management.”
Earlier this year, WIRED reported on the increasing national security issues posed by Chinese-made vehicles. The vast trove of data collected by these cars could give opposing states an unprecedented perspective on the United States and other western nations. Beijing has already pioneered the use of big data analytics to identify domestic dissidents, and concerns have grown that these tactics could be used abroad.
Pfluger submitted a detailed list of questions to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which regulates the use of AVs, and asked the regulator to explain how it reviewed the national safety risk posed by these Chinese companies.
“Has NHTSA worked independently, or in collaboration with cities or other local governments, to prevent Chinese companies from collecting sensitive information from American infrastructure, including information about sensitive government or military facilities, and subsequently transferring that information abroad?” Pfluger writes.
China certainly had this concern about American-made smart and electric vehicles. Earlier this year, for example, Beijing imposed strict restrictions on where Teslas could drive, particularly around military installations, during high-level meetings of the Communist Party.
Pfluger highlights in his letter that China “could use autonomous and connected vehicles as a way to integrate their systems and technologies into our country’s infrastructure.” The United States, like most of its allies, has already banned Chinese corporate giant Huawei from building 5G infrastructure, but these next-generation vehicles would have access to an unprecedented volume of emails, messages and phone calls, and would effectively move cameras, capable of photographing a range of critical infrastructure.
As Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told a House committee last week, there are “dangers of having communications infrastructure in the hands of nation states that don’t protect freedoms and rights like we do.” FBI Director Christopher Wray warned that China has stolen more data from the United States than all other nations combined, through “increasingly sophisticated, large-scale cyberespionage operations targeting a range of industries, organizations and dissidents in the United States.”