Federal Agencies Urge FCC to Block Undersea Cable to Hong Kong, Citing Security Risks

June 17, 2020 Updated: June 17, 2020

Federal agencies on June 17 recommended to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that it block plans for an undersea cable between Los Angeles and Hong Kong due to national security concerns.

Pacific Light Cable Network applied to the FCC, seeking to build an undersea cable connection between the United States and Asia, including a direct link between the United States and Hong Kong. The project is backed by Google, Facebook, and Pacific Light Data Co. Ltd., a Hong Kong company which is a subsidiary of Dr. Peng Telecom & Media Group Co—China’s fourth-largest provider of telecoms services.

Subsea cables form the backbone of the internet by carrying 99 percent of the world’s data traffic.

Team Telecom, an interagency task force that scrutinizes foreign investment into the United States’ telecom networks, expressed concerns that the cable link with Hong Kong would expose U.S. communications traffic to collection by the Chinese regime, according to a justice department statement. This concern stems in part from the regime’s sustained efforts to acquire sensitive personal data of Americans, it said.

The agencies added that the national security risk was increased in light of Beijing’s recent actions tightening its control over Hong Kong by passing a national security law for the city. That law allows for the regime to set up security agencies in Hong Kong.

They also raised concerns about Dr. Peng Group’s ties to Chinese intelligence and security services.

Team Telecom recommended the FCC approve parts of the cable application between the United States, Taiwan, and the Philippines, that are owned by Google and Facebook, provided those companies enter into mitigation agreements.

The FCC declined to comment on the recommendation.

There are other pending applications for cables between the United States and Hong Kong that would raise similar concerns, the agencies noted.

Chinese-built marine cables have long been considered a security concern by the United States.

A leaked report provided to The Epoch Times in 2018 showed that the Chinese regime may be intercepting communications from undersea cables, placing at risk all phone and internet data passing through major networks in the Asia-Pacific region.

Existing research shows that Chinese military branches associated with cyber espionage maintain operations near key cable landing stations. The leaked report, citing intelligence sources in the United States, Japan, and Australia, showed additional research on possible Chinese front companies that have mysterious finances and questionable ties at key data chokepoints.

The report stated that while China has a “well-deserved reputation for sophisticated cyber espionage,” its attempts to tap into undersea cables carrying large amounts of data are often overlooked. It detailed an alleged operation in the Pacific, centering on the Marshall Islands and Nauru.

“This would—with surprising ease—allow China access to all telephone and fax transmissions between South Korea, Japan, Australia, the Philippines, Singapore, and U.S. bases all over the Pacific,” it stated.

“This would provide China with access to critical military, economic, and financial communications.”

Annie Wu and Joshua Philipp contributed to this report. 

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