Senior parliamentarians express need for government-wide vigilance
Prominent politicians have expressed significant concerns about the security risks posed by the growing prevalence of Chinese-manufactured technology.
Following reports that the Chinese state may have deployed spying balloons in the skies over the UK and US, two parliamentarians have accused the government of being “asleep at wheel” over the risks posed by China – particularly technology developed in the country.
In a piece written for PublicTechnology sister publication The House Live, crossbench peer Lord Alton said that UK authorities should be vigilant to the “dangers… posed by Chinese-produced technology used for surveillance or espionage”, potentially including: “tracking devices in ministers’ cars; Chinese Communist Party (CCP) security cameras in government buildings; the widespread use by British police forces of Chinese-made drones; or partnerships between British universities with Chinese institutions”.
“It is extraordinary that 42 universities are, according to The Times, working with Chinese institutions directly involved in espionage, hacking, military research and nuclear development, as well as being complicit with atrocity crimes,” Alton said. “What, for example, is the University of Surrey doing partnering with Beijing on artificial intelligence and facial recognition software used by the regime to identify Uyghurs and dissidents?”
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He added: “It disturbs me that when, on national security grounds, our most important Five Eyes allies ban the Chinese regime’s involvement in telecommunications, surveillance cameras and nuclear power stations, the UK mostly follows the money, diminishing its resilience and increasing its dependency on China.”
Elsewhere in his piece, the peer and former Liberal Democrat MP namehecked China-based TikTok – which reportedly now has about nine million UK users – as a source of possible security risks.
Iain Duncan Smith has also previously warned against the use of the video-sharing app by UK public-sector bodies. The former Tory leader has been a longtime and vocal critic of the use of Huawei – and other Chinese-manufactured tech – in UK networks and organisations.
Following the allegations about the use of spy balloons, Duncan Smith was another senior politician to claim that the UK is currently “asleep at the wheel” regarding the risks posed by Beijing and that, across government, there is currently “a lack of joined-up thinking on China”.
Lord Alton echoed this sentiment, claiming that “across government they need to sing from the hymn sheet”.
“That Whitehall has now banned Chinese surveillance cameras from sensitive sites is good – if belated,” he said. “But bad that the government is resisting an all-party Lords amendment to take more comprehensive action. As the CCP continues to threaten our security, we need to up our game.”