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Biden administration opens investigation into foreign-made smart car components, particularly from China

Biden opens probe into foreign smart car parts

(CNN) — The US Commerce Department is opening an investigation into the national security risks posed by foreign-made hardware and software in smart cars, particularly Chinese-made technology, the department announced Thursday.

The new investigation — which could lead to regulations restricting the use of certain car parts in the US — reflects growing concern within the Biden administration that countries like China could exploit navigation data or connections to car-charging stations, for example, to collect intelligence or sabotage infrastructure.

The inquiry will focus on “connected vehicles,” a broad term for virtually any modern car that uses network connections for roadside assistance, satellite communications, or a range of other features.

“Connected vehicles from China could collect sensitive data about our citizens and our infrastructure and send this data back to the People’s Republic of China (PRC),” President Joe Biden said in a statement. “These vehicles could be remotely accessed or disabled.”

Russia, Iran, and Venezuela are some of the other countries that US national officials are concerned about when it comes to connected vehicles, according to a senior administration official.

No regulatory action is underway. Instead, the Commerce Department is soliciting public comments on whether it will need to restrict certain technology deemed a national security risk.

“We need to protect ourselves,” Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo told reporters when announcing the investigation. “The PRC knows that connected vehicles are a security threat.”

Researchers at Department of Energy-funded laboratories have studied potential vulnerabilities in electric vehicle charging stations for years, trying to anticipate how foreign hackers might infiltrate the equipment. But US officials’ security concerns about smart cars have only grown more acute in recent years.

The White House held a meeting in October 2022 with senior officials from across the government and automobile industry executives to strategize on how to bolster cybersecurity in electric vehicles.

The new investigation is the second major action taken by the Biden administration in a week to address national security concerns about Chinese technology embedded in US infrastructure. Administration officials said last week that they would invest more than $20 billion over five years in new port infrastructure, including cranes built in the US rather than China.

The Commerce Department investigation of Chinese-made technology used in cars is part of a broader struggle between the US and China for a leg up in the automotive market. The Chinese government has its own concerns about the data gathered by Tesla vehicles, and some Chinese government ministries have barred the vehicles from entering their compounds, CNN has previously reported.