US lawmakers have Chinese LiDAR on their threat-detection radar

Amid fears Beijing could harvest spatial data, letter suggests Huawei-style bans may be needed

A US congressional committee has questioned whether Chinese-made Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) devices might have a negative impact on national security, and suggested they may therefore be worthy of the same bans that prevent stateside adoption of other tech.

The Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), spearheaded by US representative and committee chairman Mike Gallagher (R-WI), penned a letter to secretaries Gina Raimondo, Lloyd Austin, and Janet Yellen requesting an investigation of Chinese LiDAR manufacturers and the appropriateness of sanctions on those entities.

"LiDAR is a critical technology used in autonomous systems and robotics but is currently not subject to US export controls or government procurement restrictions, which raises several concerns," reads the letter. "Given the importance of LiDAR, it is crucial to ensure US technology used in foreign LiDAR systems is not being leveraged by our adversaries to create autonomous military vehicles and weapons."

The lawmakers asserted that Beijing could at any time summon troves of data from LiDAR-makers, potentially delivering info that details “not only U.S. mapping and infrastructure, but also on U.S. military systems”. The letter also expresses concerns that Chinese LiDAR-makers could “introduce malware via software updated that could degrade the performance of U.S. systems.”

The group also suggested it may be too late – China-made LiDAR is already present in defense systems and platforms.

And just in case all of this national security business isn't enough, the campaigning congress members tossed in an association between LiDAR vendors and human rights abuses against the Uyghur population in China. LiDAR tech is used for the surveillance of the minority Muslim population, accused Gallagher and co.

LiDAR uses pulsed laser light to measure the distance, speed, and altitude of objects, to map environments. It is widely applicable and recently prominent in autonomous vehicles – a field in which China is moving fast at home, and increasingly as an exporter.

Earlier this month, Chinese state-sponsored media dismissed concerns over self-driving vehicles and LiDAR data as "another excuse to contain China's technological rise."

In fairness, similar arguments have been made for other entities on the sanction list – such as Huawei, drone-maker DJI, and Hikvision. Concerns applied to those manufacturers have led to rip and replace programs that see Huawei kit trashed in several countries.

Such programs have been disruptive – both financially and in terms of service continuity. In September of this year, removing Huawei equipment form the UK's 5G network resulted in outages for Sky Mobile customers.

In March, US Senate Commerce Committee chair Maria Cantwell calculated funds required to replace Chinese kit at $4.98 billion. ®

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