Lawmakers Urge State Department to Warn American Travelers about Chinese Surveillance

Karlis Dambrans/

Sens. Marco Rubio and Ron Wyden want travelers to know of tracking threats abroad.

A bipartisan pair of lawmakers urged the State Department to issue travel advisories to Americans trekking to nations that use Chinese surveillance and monitoring systems, according to a letter published Thursday. 

“The Chinese government is exporting advanced surveillance and monitoring systems as part of a broad effort to spread its authoritarian model abroad and influence foreign countries,” Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., wrote to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “Indeed, Americans need to know that repressive regimes may use Chinese-made technology to gain access to sensitive data—or that Chinese intelligence may gain access to data, even if Americans never set foot in China.”

The government is embarking on a variety of recent efforts to thwart Chinese technology company Huawei and others, over fears that the pervasiveness of their equipment in the federal government’s supply chain pose threats to U.S. national security. The Trump administration is also working to convince other nations not to implement Chinese tech as they deploy 5G mobile networks. 

In the letter, the senators penned concerns that Huawei and other Chinese technology giants aim to sell, loan and transfer “so-called ‘smart city’ and ‘safe city’” systems that include cameras, facial recognition, artificial intelligence and cloud technology that can be implemented to track and monitor people. 

They also highlight a report from the New York Times indicating that 18 countries—including Germany, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates—now use Chinese intelligent monitoring systems. The senators also reference Freedom House’s 2018 Freedom on the Net report, which demonstrates how China could gain a great deal of power through supplying surveillance technology to countries with poor human rights records. 

“The State Department has a core responsibility to make American citizens aware of threats as they travel—including, in the 21st century, the threats to privacy and personal information,” the senators wrote. 

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