Senator Questions State Department on Surveillance Exports From China

A U.S. senator is raising concerns that China could be exporting surveillance capabilities to authoritarian governments, and is calling on the State Department to put more emphasis on preventing the spread of those tools.

In a June 5 letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., raised concerns that China’s surveillance tactics are spreading to other countries through exports of technology and expertise. Markey’s letter cited recent reports on Chinese surveillance exports to Ecuador and Sri Lanka as examples of surveillance technology and expertise being shared with governments for authoritarian purposes.

“The spread of sophisticated and authoritarian mass surveillance within China itself is problematic, but its export to other government poses a worldwide threat of repression,” Markey wrote.

Markey’s letter expands criticism of Chinese technology usage amid a strong push back against those technologies in the United States. President Trump recently signed an executive order that allows the White House to ban companies from purchasing technologies from companies that pose a threat to national security, and the Department of Commerce recently banned U.S. companies from selling their products to Huawei.

“While the United States is rightfully examining China’s potential exploitation of telecommunications infrastructure through the activities of Huawei and other Chinese firms, such a focus overlooks the challenges posed by China’s exports of capabilities and techniques explicitly aimed at video, internet, and financial surveillance,” Markey said.

In his letter, Markey asked the State Department to describe its efforts to push back against countries using China’s surveillance tactics, including metrics and enforcement of laws that give the State Department authorities to act.

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