US Senators Propose Bill to Ban Federal Staff from Using Beijing-Backed Tech
U.S. senators Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) plan to introduce a new bill aimed at banning federal employees from using tech platforms that are under the influence of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
“Companies like Tencent and Huawei are espionage operations for the Chinese Communist Party, masquerading as telecom companies for the 21st century,” said Cruz in a press release.
Cruz added: “Prohibiting the use of these platforms and stopping taxpayers dollars from being used to capitalize Chinese espionage infrastructure are common sense measures to protect American national security.”
Congress is currently in recess until at least May 4, as part of social distancing measures to prevent the virus from spreading.
The bill, named “Countering Chinese Attempts at Snooping (C-CAS) Act of 2020,” would require the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of Defense, to put together a list of technology companies that they believe are “subject to influence or control” by the Chinese regime.
The Secretary of State would be required to submit the list annually to Congress.
The proposed bill would prohibit U.S. federal employees “to conduct official business over any social media, computer or smartphone application, or telecommunications technology, produced, operated, or hosted” by companies on the list.
The bill identified five Chinese tech companies Huawei, Tencent, ZTE, Alibaba, and Baidu saying that they would assist the CCP if called upon, to conduct espionage or gain “insight into the profiles, activity, or location of foreign users” via their products.
China’s national intelligence law, which went into effect in 2017, allows Beijing access to all data stored within its national borders—meaning data on Chinese servers could be accessed by the Chinese regime as well.
The bill also cites unspecified Chinese documents that show Chinese tech companies such as Huawei, Tencent, Alibaba, and Baidu have assisted the Chinese military in developing technology.
Currently, China’s Central Commission for the Development of Military–Civil Fusion, a government body established by the central government in 2017, oversees the military’s advancement by leveraging cooperation with private industry and universities.
And during a September 2019 conference, top U.S. State Department official Christopher Ford singled out the aforementioned five Chinese companies, noting that “there is a deep record of cooperation and collaboration between” them and China’s state security apparatus.
Ford said Chinese documents have shown products by Huawei, Tencent, Alibaba, Lenovo, and other tech firms have been used to research and produce weapons and equipment for the Chinese military.
Also, “Chinese military-civil fusion documentation specifically calls out Huawei’s 5G work for special appreciation in support of China’s push to develop its military industrial capabilities, as well as contributions by Tencent, Alibaba, and Baidu,” Ford said.
Citing national security risks, the U.S. government has already banned Huawei from taking part in the country’s rollout of the next-generation 5G mobile networks.
The bill would also ensure that U.S. funding would not be used to “subsidize or fund U.N. contracts with any such companies” on the list, the press release stated, pointing to a recent case of a potential partnership between the United Nations and Tencent.
On March 31, Tencent announced on its website that it would provide “videoconferencing and digital dialogue tools” to the United Nations as the global body carried out a campaign to celebrate its 75th anniversary.
Fox News reported on April 30 that the partnership has not been finalized, citing Lisa Laskaridis, a U.N. spokesperson.
“The United Nations’ decision to partner with Tencent, a glorified surveillance arm of the Chinese Communist Party, is stupid and dangerous,” Hawley said according to the bill’s press release.
Tencent is the operator of two popular Chinese social media apps, QQ and Weixin, the latter also known as WeChat.
WeChat complies with the Chinese regime’s censorship rules, and also extends its monitoring and censorship to U.S. app users. For example, it has blocked users from sending or viewing content from U.S.-based media outlets known for their reporting on the Chinese regime’s abuses, such as the Chinese-language edition of The Epoch Times and Voice of America.
Hawley condemned Chinese tech firms, saying, “they actively conspire with the CCP to conduct international surveillance and present an ongoing threat to the United States and our allies. American taxpayer money should not fund U.N. contracts that benefit the Chinese Communist Party,” he said.