After Tesla was first targeted by the Chinese government earlier this year over allegations of quality shortcomings, the successful e-car manufacturer is now in the spotlight over espionage allegations and threats to national security. According to recent reports, military personnel, government officials, and employees of large state-owned enterprises are no longer allowed to use Tesla-branded cars, as they have been classified as a possible national security risk. Another government counterintelligence measure is a ban on parking Tesla cars on military property to prevent spying through cameras or microphones.
Leaders in Beijing are concerned that data collected by the e-cars via on-board surveillance cameras and sensors could jeopardize China’s national security if transmitted to the manufacturer’s headquarters in the United States. The Chinese government believes it is possible for Tesla to access a wide range of data through its cars. This data includes the time, type and location of car use, as well as drivers’ personal information and the contact lists of cell phones synchronized with the cars.
In terms of information and security, China has extensive laws and regulations. Article 37 of the Cybersecurity Law requires that personal information and important data collected and generated by critical information infrastructure operators in the course of their operations in China must be stored in China. In this regard, in 2018, Apple transferred Chinese users’ data stored in iCloud, including photos, videos and manuscripts, to a company based in Guizhou.
Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk, however, was unfazed by the geopolitical escalation and once again demonstrated entrepreneurial spirit and long-term vision. Despite geopolitical concerns, he is backing China – a clear signal for the auto industry. Musk sees China as Tesla’s largest sales market in the long term and wants to grow with the market.