Chinese authorities are reviewing whether the encryption on Apple devices poses a potential security threat to the country and its consumers, The New York Times reports. Anonymous sources confirmed that China is quietly scrutinizing Apple and other U.S. tech companies, requiring executives or employees of foreign companies to answer questions about their products’ encryption capabilities and data storage. The interviews are being run by a committee tied to the bureau which controls the country’s internet, and it includes experts from military and security agencies.
The reviews have stoked fears that China may be extracting secrets that could be leaked to Chinese competitors or expose vulnerabilities that hackers would then be able to exploit. At the very least, tech companies are concerned that the reviews could set a precedent, with other countries demanding costly checks that put businesses at risk of being forced to provide secrets in exchange for market access. China ramped up its inquiries into American tech firms three years ago, after revelations about surveillance provided by Edward Snowden escalated international tensions over computer security. In last month’s congressional hearing, Apple general counsel Bruce Sewell confirmed China had requested the company’s source code in the last two years, but the company declined to provide it.
The tension has led investors like billionaire Carl Icahn to be wary of Apple stock, pointing to concerns over whether China could shut down access to its market on a whim. In a speech last month, Chinese President Xi Jinping outlined two options for his country’s future in dealing with foreign tech firms, neither of which sound particularly appealing. Xi wants to ensure that foreign devices are “secure and controllable”—possibly hinting at demanding government access to encryption keys or source code—or “make a fresh start, thoroughly shake off our reliance on foreign technology and rely on indigenous innovation to pursue development.”