GCHQ director sounds warning over China’s cyber threat to world

Nicholas Cecil
·2-min read
Jeremy Fleming (PA)
Jeremy Fleming (PA)

China technological cyber threat is so grave that it is feared it could control a whole “global operating system,” a British spy chief warned today.

Jeremy Fleming, director of the GCHQ spy listening centre, stressed new innovations could be used to control individuals in future smart cities.

“Previously, I and others have pointed out that in terms of our national security, Russia is affecting the weather, whilst China is shaping the climate,” he said in this year’s Imperial College Vincent Briscoe annual security lecture.

“That remains the case. But when it comes to technology, I’ll use another analogy. The threat posed by Russia’s activity is like finding a vulnerability on a specific app on your phone — it’s potentially serious, but you can probably use an alternative.

“However, the concern is that China’s size and technological weight means that it has the potential to control the global operating system.”

He explained further that:

  • China and some other states are “early implementors of many of the emerging technologies” in the digital environment. Compared to the West, they have a “competing vision for the future” of cyberspace and are strongly seeking to influence the debate around international rules and standards.

  • They are bringing “all elements of state power to control, influence design and dominate markets”, which can lead to smaller players being pushed out and undermine innovation.

  • States that “do not share our values build their own illiberal values” into the technology upon which people around the globe could later rely on.

Mr Fleming continued: “Smart cities are a case in point. They provide great promise to make urban areas more efficient and less polluting through the use of data.

“They should help you navigate life, not track your movements. But unchecked, or implemented in the wrong way, there’s a risk that we will import technology which hardwires data collection in ways that go against the interests and values of open, democratic societies.”

The spy chief stressed that the West faces a moment of reckoning unless it takes profound action to ensure technologies that define its prosperity are not controlled by competitors such as China.

Data risk: GCHQ chief Jeremy Fleming warns new innovations could be used to control individuals in future smart cities

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