Wednesday, July 24, 2024

‘Rolling Surveillance Devices:’ Chinese Self-Driving Cars Are Mapping America

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Chinese flag over American flag
Thomas Classen/Flickr

As Chinese companies test their autonomous vehicles on American roads, concerns are growing about the vast amounts of data these “rolling surveillance devices” are collecting and the potential national security implications.

Fortune reports that in recent years, Chinese-owned companies have been quietly testing their self-driving cars on American roads, particularly in California. While this may seem like a harmless part of technological advancement, experts are raising alarms about the potential national security risks associated with these vehicles.

Since 2017, self-driving cars owned by Chinese companies have traversed 1.8 million miles in California alone, according to data from the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. These vehicles, equipped with advanced cameras, sensors, and mapping technology, are capable of collecting massive amounts of data about their surroundings, including detailed video footage and precise geospatial information.

Among the 35 companies approved to test autonomous vehicles in California, seven are wholly or partly China-based. Five of these companies — WeRide, Apollo, AutoX, Pony.ai, and DiDi Research America — were active on California roads last year. Some of these companies also have permission to test in other states like Arizona and Texas.

The concern lies not just in the amount of data collected, but also in how it’s stored and potentially accessed. Some Chinese self-driving car companies appear to store U.S. data in China, according to privacy policies reviewed by Fortune. This situation effectively leaves the data accessible to the Chinese government, experts warn.

Craig Singleton, director of the China program at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, described the current situation as “literally the wild, wild west,” highlighting the lack of oversight and regulation in this area. The potential uses of this data range from mass surveillance to detailed mapping that could aid in war planning.

Despite these concerns, there is a surprising lack of scrutiny and regulation surrounding these Chinese-owned self-driving cars. State and federal agencies overseeing the testing of autonomous vehicles acknowledge that they do not currently monitor or have any process for checking what data these vehicles are collecting or how it’s being used.

This regulatory gap is particularly striking given the U.S. government’s stance on other Chinese-owned tech companies like TikTok and Huawei, which have faced intense scrutiny and potential bans due to similar data security concerns.

The data collected by these vehicles could provide valuable intelligence on infrastructure, population movements, and even individual behaviors. In the wrong hands, this information could be used for everything from targeted disinformation campaigns to more sinister purposes like assassination planning, according to some experts.

Adding to the concern is the stark contrast between how China and the U.S. handle such technologies. While Chinese companies are freely testing their autonomous vehicles in the U.S., American companies are not allowed to conduct similar tests in China without partnering with a licensed Chinese company.

Read more at Fortune here.

Lucas Nolan is a reporter for Breitbart News covering issues of free speech and online censorship.

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