US probes data security risks from Chinese cars

US probes data security risks from Chinese cars

Connected vehicles could potentially gather sensitive data that could be sent to Beijing, officials say

The Dolphin Mini, a low-cost EV made in Mexico by China-based BYD, the world’s biggest electric vehicle seller, is launched in Mexico City on Wednesday. The Biden administration is facing pressure to restrict Chinese EV imports from Mexico. (Photo: Reuters)
The Dolphin Mini, a low-cost EV made in Mexico by China-based BYD, the world’s biggest electric vehicle seller, is launched in Mexico City on Wednesday. The Biden administration is facing pressure to restrict Chinese EV imports from Mexico. (Photo: Reuters)

WASHINGTON - The White House said on Thursday that the United States is opening an investigation into whether Chinese vehicle imports pose security risks and could impose restrictions due to concerns about “connected” car technology.

The Commerce Department investigation aims to establish whether Chinese-assembled smart vehicles could collect sensitive data about US citizens and infrastructure and send the data to China, the White House said.

“China’s policies could flood our market with its vehicles, posing risks to our national security,” President Joe Biden said in a statement. “I’m not going to let that happen on my watch.”

White House officials told reporters it was too early to say what action might be taken and said no decision about any potential ban or restrictions on connected Chinese vehicles had been decided.

Officials said on a call with reporters the US government has wide authority under the law and an administration action could “potentially have a large impact”.

Biden called the effort an “unprecedented action to ensure that cars on US roads from countries of concern like China do not undermine our national security” and directed the Commerce Department “to take action to respond to the risks”.

There are relatively few Chinese-made light-duty vehicles being imported into the United States. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said the administration was taking action “before Chinese-manufactured vehicles become widespread in the United States and potentially threaten our privacy and national security”.

Chinese EV makers have been counting on Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Europe as their largest exporting markets. BYD, the world’s largest EV maker by sales, has repeatedly said it has no plan to sell its cars in the US market.

Separately, the Biden administration is considering imposing new tariffs on Chinese-made vehicles, as officials face new pressure to restrict Chinese EV imports from Mexico.

The White House said threats could arise because vehicles “collect large amounts of sensitive data on their drivers and passengers (and) regularly use their cameras and sensors to record detailed information on US infrastructure”.

The White House also said vehicles could “be piloted or disabled remotely” and added the investigation will also look at autonomous vehicles.

The Chinese Embassy in Washington has repeatedly criticised Biden administration proposals to impose new restrictions on Chinese trade, urging the agency to “stop hyping up the ‘China threat’ theory and its unwarranted suppression of Chinese companies”.

In November, a bipartisan group of US lawmakers raised alarms about Chinese companies collecting and handling sensitive data while testing autonomous vehicles in the United States.

The Commerce Department will seek comments for 60 days on the potential risks of Chinese connected vehicles and then consider drafting regulations to address concerns.

The notice being released Thursday also seeks details about current US-assembled vehicles including where automakers license software.

“We need to understand the extent of the technology in these cars that can capture wide swaths of data or remotely disable or manipulate connected vehicles,” Raimondo said.

The United States previously barred Chinese telecom companies from its market citing concerns about data and designated Huawei and ZTE as threats, requiring US carriers to remove their equipment from US networks.

The White House said China poses significant restrictions on US autos and other foreign autos operating in China. “Why should connected vehicles from China be allowed to operate in our country without safeguards?” Biden said.

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