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Alicia Kearns warns

parts in modern cars could allow China to track people and blackmail prime minister

The head of the Foreign Affairs Committee said new IoT connectivity technologies allow the Chinese to ‘get all the information they want’

By Francis Elliott

January 15, 2023

The chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee said Xi Jinping had been explicit about the race for technological supremacy (Photo: Tom Pilston)

Components routinely fitted to modern cars threaten to hand China a massive intelligence advantage and could even expose a prime minister to blackmail, the head of the Foreign Affairs Committee has warned.

Alicia Kearns was speaking after the revelation in the i about the discovery in a government car of an IoT cellular module capable of being used as a tracking device.

The MP for Rutland and Melton said the component was an example of the serious vulnerabilities inherent in new Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity technologies dominated by China.

She said that three Chinese companies had won more than 50 per cent of the global market in the components as car manufacturers opted to pay less than charged by Western providers.

“Essentially these things track you,” Ms Kearns told the i.

“The Chinese are getting all that information if they want it. The risk is that, for example, say they start looking at which cars are coming in and out of Number 10. They can then identify which are the prime minister’s and which are those of his security.”

“They can work out where their home is, their habits, their vulnerabilities, their networks, their friends, the things that open them to blackmail.”

Earlier this month, i revealed a hidden Chinese tracking device was found after intelligence officials stripped back government vehicles in response to growing concerns over spyware.

At least one SIM card capable of transmitting location data was discovered in a sweep of government and diplomatic vehicles which uncovered “disturbing things”, a serving security source confirmed.

The geolocating device had been placed into a vehicle inside a sealed part imported from a supplier in China and installed by the vehicle manufacturer, according to the source.

Chinese officials dismissed the revelations as “groundless and sheer rumour”, adding: “We are firmly opposed to political manipulation on normal economic and trade cooperation or any smear on Chinese enterprises.”

The MP said that China’s President, Xi Jinping, had been explicit about the race for technological supremacy.

“That’s why they’re buying up these strategic industries trying to make sure they’ve got technological advancement, because then they force us into path dependency. If we are dependent on China at home we can’t be independent or strong on human rights around the world. So it neuters us completely.”

She believes many of the great security problems that now confront the UK and its allies have been made worse by a misguided effort by governments of all stripes to shield the public from difficult issues.

“The attitude has been, ‘Don’t you worry your head about foreign policy, national security. It’s too complicated. It has too many nuances, too far away. Don’t worry. We’ve got it. We’ll look after it.’”


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