There has been growing concern in the West over the proliferation of Chinese electronics, which appear to have been hard-wired for mass surveillance and espionage. This should come as no surprise to consumers who have long been aware of various corporations and government entities monitoring them through their devices. But the problem with Chinese Communist Party is much worse than most would imagine.
According to a University of Edinburgh Study, published in February of this year, Chinese tech companies like OnePlus and Xiaomi pack their phones with spyware, designed to scoop up everything from your contacts list to your app usage. They do so even when the devices are off or out of service, and without paying any mind to data protection laws and opt-outs—all of which are routinely respected by tech giants and government agencies in the United States.
All of this data is transmitted to third-party groups, including mobile network operators, outside service providers like Baidu, and of course the Chinese government. These companies—and in fact all companies that do business with China—are required to create backdoors in both their hardware and their software, giving the Chinese government unfettered access to their devices. A government official could tap into a video feed or read text messages without a warrant or a notification, and they can do so from halfway across the world regardless of where you are.
Over the years China has fought to become a leader in technological innovation. They’ve upgraded their manufacturing capabilities and invested in research, allowing them to produce cheap, state-of-the-art devices, many of which are sold overseas. It’s not just smartphones. Chinese companies are churning out everything from household gadgets to smartwatches, and they’ve become so ubiquitous that many buyers have forgotten the dangers of investing in Chinese tech. It’s resulted in some alarming scenarios.
Law enforcement in the UK relies on closed-circuit television cameras (CCTV), which were mostly purchased from Chinese tech companies like Hikvision. They’re so common that it has been said that every high street in London is now being surveilled by the Chinese government. They even found cameras that were being trained on UK military bases. Efforts to correct the issue have been slow. The cameras were not banned in government buildings until November of last year, and while there has been outcry, the public surveillance system has yet to be replaced.
The US government has been debating and shelving the issue of Chinese tech companies for more than a decade. Public discourse began in September of 2012 when the US House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (USHPSCI) interviewed representatives from Chinese tech giants ZTE and Huawei. When Rep. Adam Schiff (D – Calif.) asked them about Article 11 of the Chinese National Intelligence Law, which requires tech companies to give the Chinese government access to their data, they claimed that they had never heard of such a law. They also insisted that they would never release their customer’s data should the Chinese government ask them to do so.. The matter was far from resolved after the hearing. Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) voiced his disappointment, stating that he hoped the Chinese tech companies would be more forthcoming about their operations. Instead, there was an obvious pattern of deflection and lies. Huawei still refuses to disclose their ownership structure, and they will not admit to basic facts, such as their establishment of a nationwide mobile network.
Both parties agreed that Huawei and ZTE posed a serious threat to national security. But the American government allowed them to continue doing business in the US—thereby continuing their mass surveillance campaign–until November of 2022 when sales of new products were banned. Many of their older models are still on the shelves.
Chinese tech companies have zero plausible deniability when it comes to data collection. The United States frequently sounds the alarm on Chinese espionage. They’ve stolen military secrets, information pertaining to national security, even blueprints for fighter jets. No field has been left neglected, and that’s within the private sector as well. . Companies on Wall Street lose an estimated total of $320 billion annually from Chinese economic theft.
Corporations and foreign governments aren’t the only ones who should be worried. The Chinese government has been dissidents overseas. In one of several cases made public by the DOJ, Wu Xiaolei, a 25-year-old student in Boston, was arrested for harassing his classmate, a fellow Chinese national. The victim in the caseput up a series of anti-government posters. Wu’s reponse was to threaten to cut her hands off. He also alerted Chinese security officials, who he said would be making a visit to the victim’sfamily home on the mainland.
Those same security officials have setup unofficial police stations around the world known as “110 Overseas Police Service Centers.” There are 54 known locations on 5 continents, including several offices in the US and the UK. They’re used to harass and intimidate Chinese citizens into returning to the mainland for criminal proceedings, a violation of international law. They’re also utilizing China’s mass surveillance network to go after anyone they deem to be a threat to the Communist party. Chinese devices and social media companies play a large part in their operations, so much so that the FBI has been monitoring Wechat, a popular social media platform in China, for signs of harassment.
Chinese tech companies represent a clear threat to both sovereignty and security, and the American government has known that for well over a decade; the same can be said for the UK. But they’ve only recently begun taking decisive action against them. Every nation across the world should take a comprehensive look at the entire Chinese tech sector.. They should ban any piece of technology that could be used for surveillance and remove every device that has been compromised. Anything less represents a reckless disregard for public safety and the rule of law.