A Commissioner of the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) is calling on the regulator to eliminate a “backdoor” that allows telecom firms with ties to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) access into the U.S. network.
The FCC last year banned U.S. firms from tapping into an $8.3 billion government fund to purchase equipment from Chinese telecom firms Huawei and ZTE after deeming them national security threats. But U.S. telecom carriers are still allowed to use private funds to purchase and use the same equipment, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr said during a virtual panel event hosted by Washington-based think tank CSIS on March 30.
“Once we’ve determined that Huawei or any other gear poses an unacceptable national security risk, it makes no sense to allow that exact same equipment to get purchased and inserted in our communications network,” said Carr.
“This isn’t just a concern for the military,” he said. “Everything that we do in modern society now runs on interconnected networks, from banking to transportation, even our power grids…If these networks are threatened, everything that we have come to rely on is threatened.”
In 2012, the Congressional Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence issued a report stating that “Huawei and ZTE cannot be trusted to be free of foreign state influence and thus pose a security threat to the United States and to our systems.”
U.S. officials have also warned that Chinese telecom companies like Huawei and ZTE have close ties with the CCP. Under China’s national security law, companies in China are required to cooperate with the CCP’s intelligence agencies when asked, which could include granting authorities access to and control of their data.
Huawei also has several hundred CCP committees embedded in its corporate structure, Nury Turkel, commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, said at the same event. When needed, Huawei and ZTE will follow the Party’s leadership and policies, according to Turkel.
In addition, China’s telecom companies have played an important role in facilitating and carrying out the CCP’s oppressive policies on ethnic minorities, including Uyghur Muslims and Tibetans, Turkel said.
More than one million Uyghurs and other minority Muslims are detained in the Xinjiang region, where they are subjected to forced labor, torture, and indoctrination.
Huawei provides surveillance technology used in Xinjiang such as facial recognition, Turkel said. It has also provided technical support and training to Xinjiang’s Public Security Bureau, which has been put on the U.S. trade blacklist.
Carr also urged the United States to adopt more measures to ensure that electronic devices made with forced labor do not enter the U.S. market.
In May 2019, the Trump administration placed Huawei and its subsidiaries on a trade blacklist, which bars American companies from doing business with it without a license.
The FCC in December finalized rules requiring carriers with ZTE or Huawei equipment to “rip and replace” that equipment. It created a reimbursement program for that effort, and U.S. lawmakers in December approved $1.9 billion to fund the program.
Last month, the regulator designated five Chinese companies as posing a threat to national security: Huawei Technologies Co, ZTE Corp, Hytera Communications Corp, Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co, and Dahua Technology Co.
Reuters contributed to this report.