Strasbourg airport’s Chinese scanners deal prompts outcry from EU lawmakers

PARIS, Oct 14 (Reuters) – Strasbourg airport’s deal to buy baggage-scanning equipment made by Chinese company Nuctech has upset some European lawmakers over security concerns, a letter, written by three members of the European Parliament and seen by Reuters, showed.

The letter, sent by the three MEPs to the French state representative for the Strasbourg region, called for the contract to be reversed “until an independent investigation” is carried out to check whether Nuctech’s technology poses no spying risk.

“Nuctech’s rapid development raises concerns about the risks of adopting Chinese technology in our border security systems,” the three MEPs — Bart Groothuis, Nathalie Loiseau, Reinhard B├╝tikofer — wrote in the letter, listing European lawmakers and members of the European Commission among the people concerned.

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Strasbourg is the official seat of the European Parliament, as well as of the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights.

“My main concern is not about backdoors in these Chinese products, as any software update can initiate that, but about the dependency on a state-owned enterprise which is bound by the 2017 Chinese intelligence law,” Groothius said in an email to Reuters, citing China’s cybersecurity law that requires companies to store data in the country as well agree to security reviews.

“Strasbourg airport will be dependent on Chinese nationals for innovation, maintenance and technical support,” said Groothius, a member of the liberal Renew Europe political group at the European parliament and a former cybersecurity expert for the Dutch ministry of defence.

Groothius said the letter was sent on Oct. 10.

Nuctech, which is part state-owned, did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for the French prefect of the Strasbourg region, Josiane Chevalier, did not reply to requests seeking comment.

Nuctech’s technology, which includes X-ray scanning material and sensors for ports and airports, was blacklisted by the U.S. Bureau of Industry and Security, Commerce, in 2020.

Strasbourg airport’s CEO Renaud Paubelle told Reuters in an interview that airport signed a contract in early October with French distributor DETEKT’IN for the supply and maintenance of Nuctech’s equipment.

Paubelle said Nuctech’s products were favoured over other bidders, including European and U.S. ones, following a tender.

“We chose the best offer, technically and financially,” he said, adding that any reversal of the contract might lead to litigation and break-up fees.

“I’m actually surprised by the fuss that the purchase of this type of equipment has caused in Strasbourg,” Paubelle added, insisting that Nuctech’s equipment had been screened and approved by the France’s aviation authority DGAC.

“I deplore the fact that we didn’t have a European offer that was up to par and that we would have been very happy to be able to select.”

Nuctech’s equipment is already present in other French airports, such as Bordeaux.

The DGAC did not reply to requests seeking comment.

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Reporting by Mathieu Rosemain;
Additional reporting by Michel Rose. Editing by Jane Merriman

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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