China reportedly bans Tesla cars from military facilities over spying fears

It's worried the cameras could be used for espionage.

REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

Tesla cars might be hot sellers in China, but don't tell that to the country's government. Reuters and Bloomberg sources say the Chinese military has banned Tesla vehicles from its military facilities over fears the EVs' cameras pose a security risk. While the drivers themselves won't be in trouble, they'll have to park outside the premises.

The Wall Street Journal also reported that China was limiting use of Tesla cars by employees in both the military and "key state-owned companies." It told some agencies to ask staff to stop driving their cars to work, and to avoid driving into housing compounds for families of people working in sensitive fields.

The concern, as you might guess, is that a spy might use the bevy of cameras on a vehicle like the Model Y to detail the facilities and their activity. The Dashcam feature records up to 10 minutes of video from the front, and there's a one-hour looping buffer of footage. Sentry Mode, meanwhile, will record incidents around the car starting 10 minutes before they took place. Newer vehicles like the Y and Model 3 also have a driver-facing interior camera. While it's not quite around-the-clock recording, it's theoretically possible to map a base or capture troop movements.

Tesla has so far declined to officially comment apart from telling the WSJ that its privacy policies complied with Chinese laws and regulations. However, company chief Elon Musk denied the allegations in a virtual forum. Tesla would "get shut down" if it used cars for spying in China or any other country, Musk said, adding that there was motivation to keep data confidential.

Whether or not the claims are merited, they may serve a political role. China is still frustrated that the US has labeled Huawei and other companies as security threats. Restrictions on Tesla cars could serve a form of retaliation, especially with Chinese and American officials engaging in tense discussions.

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