US pushes Europe to reject Chinese baggage screening tech over spying fears

This echoes the fight against Huawei.

Roland Weihrauch/picture alliance via Getty Images

The US fight against Chinese technology appears to be extending to another category: the security screening you normally see at the airport or border. Wall Street Journal sources understand the National Security Council and other US agencies are pushing European governments (including Germany, Greece and Italy) to avoid using baggage, cargo and passenger screening systems from Nuctech, a Chinese state-run company that already has a foothold in the continent. American officials are reportedly worried any connected devices could pass sensitive data like passenger info and shipping manifests to Chinese spies.

Much like the claims against Huawei, there’s no publicly available evidence of Nuctech forwarding data to Chinese surveillance systems. The US Transportation Security Administration barred Nuctech from many US airports in 2014 following a review, although the report is classified.

Nuctech denied the assertions, claiming that data from its devices “belong to our customer[s] only,” and “by no means” go to the Chinese government. It also rejected claims that it had dominant shares of baggage and cargo screening, and that it priced anything below cost to thwart the competition. The EU found the company guilty of price dumping in 2010, but Nuctech has since set up a Polish factory to keep costs low.

The State Department didn’t directly confirm the strategy, but did state that the US was still asking allies to guar against companies “heavily subsidized by authoritarian regimes.”

Whether or not there’s any substance to the accusations, there are economic maneuvers invovled as well. The US is supposedly asking European nations to replace Nuctech equipment with American equivalents — it stands to benefit if the Chinese company gets kicked out. That’s a strong incentive to keep up the campaign, even if the surveillance claims are unwarranted.

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