Technology China had access to Tesla employees’ data, whistleblower claims

China had access to Tesla employees’ data, whistleblower claims

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Chinese Tesla staff had access to the private data of over a hundred thousand of the carmaker’s employees, a whistleblower has warned regulators.

Lukasz Krupski, a former employee, said information about current and former Tesla staff, including passport numbers, medical details and salaries, was available to staff worldwide on internal systems.

He has written to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the UK’s privacy watchdog, warning that personnel in China or Russia could access the data, creating a “significant security risk”. Tesla is believed to have restricted access since.

“It could be very useful for Russian or Chinese intelligence,” Mr Krupski told The Telegraph. “Individuals in these countries who have power, they have their own agendas which [do] not necessarily align with the Western world.”

Mr Krupski said the employee data was available to everyone in the company without restrictions, including details about thousands of staff in the UK. The data included personal details of Elon Musk, Tesla’s billionaire chief executive.

Tesla employed more than 127,000 people last year but the database reportedly includes a large number of former employees, including thousands of files showing reasons why they had left the company.

The Telegraph could not confirm claims that employees in China had access to employee data, which it is alleged was available through project tracking software called Jira.

Tesla tightened security around the system earlier this year, telling staff that previously anybody with access to a “valid Tesla email address” had access to the system.

Journalists at the German newspaper Handelsblatt, who received leaked files from Mr Krupski earlier this year, said there were indications that Chinese employees had contributed to Jira tickets, suggesting they had access to the system.

However, it is unclear how many staff might have had access. Tesla is believed not to have employed staff in Russia.

The ICO did not comment on if it had looked into the claims. Data protection authorities in the Netherlands, where Tesla has its European headquarters, are scrutinising the company’s wider data practices.

National security laws in China give authorities broad licence to demand data from businesses operating in the country.

Mr Krupski joined Tesla as a technician for Tesla in 2018 and was congratulated by Mr Musk after putting out a fire at a Tesla delivery centre the following year.

However, he says he was retaliated against with a pattern of abuse for raising concerns about unsafe working practices including directly contacting Mr Musk.

This year, he leaked a huge quantity of safety data to Handelsblatt that revealed thousands of complaints about the company’s self-driving systems.

He has also been interviewed by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Securities and Exchange Commission, both of which are probing Tesla’s self-driving software.

Mr Krupski said he had suffered health problems and struggled to sleep since blowing the whistle on the company but that he had been improving since his identity was revealed.

“Maybe I will end up in prison but maybe I might be rehabilitated as well, and appreciated for the risks I took,” he said.

He said he had been a longtime electric car enthusiast and a “Tesla believer”, applying for jobs in multiple countries before arriving at the company in Norway. “Most Tesla employees are hooked on this PR and hype, it’s a great way to have committed workers,” he said.

However, he said Mr Musk’s antics since buying Twitter last year had made it easier to convince himself he was right.

“It has made my whistleblowing extremely hard because [you can think] ‘How could you say something like that happens when he’s a genius; how dare you talk trash about someone who’s man of the year?’ Now actually it’s much easier [because] he ruined himself since he took over Twitter.”

He said that Mr Musk was responsible for safety issues and an alleged culture of retaliation, “I believe, personally, that the fish rots from the head,” he said

Mr Krupski said Tesla has threatened to sue but that so far, “nothing has happened”.

Former and current Tesla employees have filed three separate lawsuits against the company in the US related to the data breaches. The company is preparing to defend the claims.

The company wrote to staff this summer saying it is committed to protecting data, and that it has restricted access to employee data within the company.

Tesla did not comment.

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