Jan 18, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Lawmakers warn of states using risky Chinese tech

Rep. John Katko. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images
Rep. John Katko. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Two lawmakers are urging the federal government to ensure state governments are not procuring telecommunications equipment from Chinese companies deemed a security risk, according to a letter viewed by Axios.

The big picture: Governments around the world are struggling to determine which Chinese tech companies may pose security risks, and how to extricate those products and services from sensitive telecommunications infrastructure.

Details: In a letter dated Jan. 12, Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.), ranking member on the House Homeland Security Committee, and Rep. Andrew Garbarino (R-N.Y.) asked Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo to ensure that all telecommunications equipment used by government agencies is secure.

What they're saying: "We remain concerned about the purchase and use of telecommunications equipment and devices that have ties to the Chinese military, or that engage in unfair practices supported by the Chinese Communist Party," the lawmakers wrote.

  • They called for coordination with the Federal Acquisition Security Council to "support States to ensure they are not unwittingly procuring products that will create vulnerabilities at the State level which could expose the Federal telecommunications infrastructure and supply chain to greater risks."

State of play: State-level procurement of tech represents an area of vulnerability. One March 2020 report found that states such as Florida continue to purchase equipment made by Chinese-owned firms Lenovo and Lexmark, which aren't blacklisted but some say still pose risks.

  • “If you are a state chief information officer, there is no place to go in the federal government to really understand the threats you face and what you should do to ensure security. At the federal level we could definitely do more to help empower the many state actors,” report author Roslyn Layton has said.

Context: The U.S. has blacklisted numerous Chinese tech firms due to their ties with China's military, their complicity in human rights abuses, and concerns their technology would be used for Chinese government surveillance.

Go deeper: Defense Department produces list of Chinese military-linked companies

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