Departing US FCC Chairman Ajit Pai Warns of Espionage Threats to Telecoms From China


2021-01-21 04:56:53

Outgoing US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai said potential Chinese espionage and threats to US telecommunications networks and Internet freedom are the biggest national security issue that regulators will face in the next four years.

Ajit Pai told Reuters in an interview there is a “wide array” of activity from China that was of concern, including of surveillance, economic espionage and potential “injection of malware into networks here in the United States or around the world. There are a number of bad things that can happen when insecure equipment is used to handle sensitive information.”

Pai was named chairman in January 2017 by former President Donald Trump and stepped down on Wednesday. During his tenure, the FCC cracked down on Chinese network manufacturers like Huawei and ZTE.

Last month, the FCC began the process of revoking China Telecom’s authorisation to operate in the United States. China Telecom is the largest Chinese telecommunications company.

“The Chinese Communist Party has a very determined world view. They want to dominate this space and exert their will – even beyond their own borders,” Pai said Tuesday. “That is a serious threat not just to Internet freedom but to national security for us and for many of our allies.”

The Chinese foreign ministry said in December US claims about risks to national security were false.

The FCC first warned in April that it might terminate US operations of three state-controlled Chinese telecommunications companies including China Telecom.

In 2019, the FCC voted to deny state-owned China Mobile the right to provide US telecommunications services, citing risks the Chinese government could use the approval to conduct espionage.

Under Pai, the FCC formally designated China’s Huawei and ZTE as national security threats, barring US firms from tapping an $8.3 billion (roughly Rs. 60,550 crores) government fund to purchase equipment from the companies. Congress approved $1.9 billion (roughly Rs. 13,900 crores) in December to pay for replacement of Chinese-made equipment in US networks.

In April, the FCC approved Alphabet unit Google’s request to use part of an US-Asia undersea telecommunications cable, but not to Hong Kong, after US agencies raised national security concerns.

© Thomson Reuters 2021


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