A new report from MI6, the UK’s external security agency, raises concerns about the risks posed by “smart city” technology deployed by China and it’s potential for abuses.
MI6 isn’t just concerned about the tech’s applications in China’s cities. Chinese firms have sold similar tech to cities in the UK, and the spy agency is pushing for restrictions in procuring such tech from China.
From the Financial Times:
One of the key threats is misuse of personal data. “Because you’ve got all this population-scale data anonymised in different ways, there’s a risk that someone could recombine them to identify . . . the types of people visiting particular buildings or accessing particular services,” a security official said.
“Lots of companies are offering not just products but services, so they supply the kit and they run the programme for you,” the official added. “That’s an aggregation of a lot of risk in a single place, so that’s the sort of thing we’d advise against.”
There are wider concerns that Beijing could compel Chinese companies to hand over data gleaned from these contracts, which could then be used for espionage. If the technology itself is insecure, and vulnerable to hackers, this would pose a different type of threat: information about movements of people around cities could assist in terrorist attack planning.
Many local authorities are pursuing safe smart city projects with UK companies, in areas such as AI-controlled road junctions and digitised parking systems. But the potential scale of Chinese smart city procurement were highlighted last month, when freedom of information requests obtained by Reuters revealed that at least half of London’s boroughs have bought and deployed surveillance systems made by Chinese suppliers, including Hikvision. The company is one of the Chinese suppliers blacklisted by the US over Beijing’s repression of Uyghur Muslims in China.