By Michael Entner-Gómez | Digital Transformation Officer | Entner Consulting Group, LLC.
A recent development has raised eyebrows in the U.S. political arena, as a bipartisan group of lawmakers voiced concerns over the data collection practices of Chinese companies involved in testing autonomous vehicles (AVs) on American soil. This apprehension stems from the potential misuse of sensitive data and its implications for national security.
The focus of the scrutiny lies on ten companies, including prominent names like Baidu, Nio, WeRide, Didi Chuxing, Xpeng, Inceptio, Pony.ai, AutoX, Deeproute.ai, and Qcraft. These companies have been actively testing autonomous vehicles in various parts of the United States, notably in California. According to reports, these companies, in the year leading up to November 2022, logged over 450,000 miles of test drives in California alone.
Concerns Raised by Lawmakers
Key figures leading the inquiry include Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Mike Gallagher, Chair of the China select committee, along with other influential lawmakers. Their primary concern revolves around the type of data these vehicles collect during their testing phase, how this data is handled, and whether it is shared with the Chinese government or affiliated entities. They question if the data, which could include details about U.S. infrastructure and citizens’ routines, is stored in China and if it poses a threat to national security.
Data Privacy and Security
The lawmakers' concerns are amplified by China’s history of laws requiring companies to grant government officials access to user data. From 2014 to 2017, several laws were passed in China mandating such access, raising fears that these autonomous vehicle companies might be legally bound to share data with the Chinese government. The U.S. currently lacks a comprehensive data privacy and security law, which could potentially be exploited to obtain sensitive information collected during the testing of these vehicles.
Requests for Transparency
The bipartisan group has demanded greater transparency from these companies regarding their data collection practices. They have asked for detailed information on the type of data collected, its storage location, the duration for which it is kept, and whether it is shared or sold. Furthermore, they are investigating if these companies have financial ties to the Chinese Communist Party. The lawmakers have set a deadline of November 29 for these companies to respond to their queries.
Previous Concerns and Ongoing Debate
This is not the first instance of U.S. lawmakers expressing unease over Chinese companies' involvement in autonomous vehicle testing. Earlier in July, four Congress members wrote to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, highlighting the risk of the U.S. losing a strategic advantage by allowing these tests to continue without stringent regulations.
The Future of Chinese Technology in the USA
The situation underscores a growing tension between technological advancement and national security. As autonomous vehicles become more integrated into daily life, the data they collect becomes increasingly valuable and sensitive. This latest move by U.S. lawmakers reflects a broader concern over the implications of foreign companies, particularly those from China, operating in critical technology sectors within the United States. The responses from the implicated companies and subsequent actions by the U.S. government will be closely watched, as they could set precedents for future foreign technology engagements in the country.