U.K. Fears Chinese Electric Cars Spy on Citizens

Concerns have arisen within the U.K. government that China may potentially use electric vehicles to engage in surveillance on British soil.

With the looming ban on new petrol and diesel vehicles in 2030, and stringent quotas on zero-emissions vehicles, ministers worry that the affordable electric cars from China may come equipped with technology that enables data harvesting on a massive scale.

These fears are fuelled by China’s increasing dominance in the electric vehicle market.

Unnamed sources within the government have voiced their worries.

One senior government source stated to The Telegraph: “If it is manufactured in a country like China, how certain can you be that it won’t be a vehicle for collecting intel and data? If you have electric vehicles manufactured by countries who are already using technology to spy, why would they not do the same here?”

The source further commented, “It will be used with all of the data that they collect, and that’s how it becomes incredibly valuable and quite dangerous.”

Echoing these concerns, another minister mentioned the ominous possibility of remote surveillance and interference, saying, “That is the world we’re going into.”

This apprehension is underscored by the U.K.’s past experience with Huawei’s technology in 5G networks, which led to the Chinese firm’s ban in 2020.

Former Home Secretary Dame Priti Patel highlighted the dangers, comparing the issue of surveillance in cars to the previous 5G complications, stating “These are realistic risks,” and adding, “All we have to do is look at how government tied themselves up with things such as 5G.”

The anxiety is heightened by China’s swift ascension in the U.K. car market.

The CEO of the Climate Change Committee, Chris Stark, indicated that China is “rapidly moving into second place” as a car supplier to the U.K., and shows signs of potentially taking the lead.

In addition, U.K. manufacturers may need to subsidize Chinese imports if they fail to meet targets for phasing out petrol engines.

Proposed regulations under the zero-emissions vehicle (ZEV) mandate specify that 22% of new car sales in 2024 must be zero-emission models, rising to 80% by 2030.

An international cross-party alliance, the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, has issued a stark warning.

The group asserts the U.K. is “sleep-walking” into a situation where it could be “catastrophically undercut” by China, saying: “It is hard to conceive of a more critical infrastructure to everyday life in the U.K., and it is absolutely wrong to allow control of such a key industry to be handed to authoritarian Beijing.”

In terms of technology, “cellular modules”, which establish internet connections to transmit data, are under scrutiny.

These modules monitor and control the systems of a car but are also open to potential spying and interference.

Charles Parton, senior fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, warned, “If that car has cameras, they could use the modules to switch on the cameras and take the data. Ultimately you’ve got to ban any Chinese module in any vehicle, and you’d have to do it quite quickly.”

Despite the concerns, a government spokesman assured: “We will never compromise our national security and are continuing to strengthen our infrastructure and supply chain resilience to protect U.K. economic security… We’ve developed requirements for all car manufacturers to mitigate against cyber threats in their designs and monitor the risk through the life of their vehicles.”