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U.S. Senate report accuses China of 'digital authoritarianism'

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - China is using its technological rise to develop “digital authoritarianism” to conduct surveillance, control the internet and censor information not just within its borders, but around the world, a U.S. Senate report said on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) talks to reporters outside the U.S. Supreme Court after the court ruled in a 5-4 vote that U.S. President Donald Trump's 2017 move to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, created in 2012 by his Democratic predecessor Barack Obama, was unlawful, in Washington, U.S. June 18, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Senator Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who led the report, said China uses technologies such as artificial intelligence and biometrics to keep track of its citizens and control information.

The report’s release comes as relations between Washington and Beijing are increasingly strained, with President Donald Trump blaming China for the coronavirus pandemic and jockeying over trade, human rights and Beijing’s military buildup.

China has collected vast amounts of data, renewing its use of surveillance technologies, during the pandemic, heightening the urgency of a response, the report noted.

Washington has been pushing allies to exclude products from China’s Huawei [HWT.UL] from 5G networks and is paving the way for sanctions on it and other Chinese companies.

The report discusses new laws strengthening Beijing’s control over information, and investments in companies developing technologies that support these efforts.

It says China exports digital technologies to increase its influence elsewhere and seeks more clout at international organizations such as the World Trade Organization and World Health Organization.

“China has been exporting its digital authoritarianism and its tools and tactics across the world,” Menendez said during a briefing, saying international leaders are increasingly attracted to China’s model, especially as Trump pulls back from international engagement.

The report includes recommendations to counter China’s rise. Those include legislation creating a public-private consortium developing U.S. 5G technology and a “Digital Rights Promotion Fund” to push back against China’s use of mass surveillance.

It also backs opening a cyber military service academy, and for the U.S. president to lead a coalition of countries working together to counteract China.

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Leslie Adler and Jonathan Oatis

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