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US raises data theft alert vs. China undersea cable plan

A United States inter-governmental group has sounded the alarm against data security threats posed by an ambitious cable undertaking between the United States and Hong Kong.

The US Committee for the Assessment of Foreign Participation in the United States Telecommunications Services Sector has urged the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to junk the part of the undersea cable proposal of Pacific Light Cable Network (PLCN), a Chinese firm, which would connect US and Hong Kong.

Formerly known as “Team Telecom,” the committee is composed of the Department of Homeland Security (DOH) and the Department of Defense (DOD) led by the Department of Justice’s National Security Division, Foreign Investment Review Section.

On June 17, Team Telecom recommended the specific rejection of the US-Hong Kong undersea cable connection amid fears of a digital and technology security threat and the worsening relations between the Trump administration and China.

Despite the violent protests for independence besieging Hong Kong, Team Telecom believes the embattled state would be left with no choice but to submit to China’s intelligence-gathering and surveillance orders.

Cable connection from the US to other Asian regions, specifically Taiwan and the Philippines, don’t bother Team Telecom quite as much, which is why the group’s recommendation to the FCC is only for a partial denial of the undersea cable application

The original vision for the system was to extend the network from the United States to Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the Philippines.

Team Telecom made its recommendation based on “an assessment that submarine cables are a fundamental element of global communications critical infrastructure, carrying most of the world’s internet, voice, and data traffic between continents.”

The group also cited the dangers posed by the undersea cable plan that would “land directly in Chinese territory, where the government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has demonstrated the intent to acquire the US person’s data to harm US national security.”

To back its argument, the US team noted that the DOJ had indicted Chinese hackers for the Equifax breach in February 2020 and that China has been widely accused of stealing nearly 22 million records from the US Office of Personnel Management in 2015, among others.

Team Telecom also raised the alert on the motives and loyalty of PLCN's owners, Dr. Peng Group and Pacific Light Data. It cited that under Chinese law, Dr. Peng must support PRC intelligence and security protocol.

Dr. Peng’s questionable compliance with US laws when acquiring telecom assets and Pacific Light Data’s link with China Unicorn, PRC’s carrier, was also cited as subjects for scrutiny.

Hong Kong strategic location in Asia Pacific was also noted by the group as it is “a hub for international communications critical infrastructure, where a growing share of US communications traffic to the Asia- Pacific must first land on Chinese territory and traverse Chinese-owned or -controlled infrastructure before ultimately reaching final destinations in other parts of Asia.” 

Topics: US Committee for the Assessment of Foreign Participation , United States Telecommunications Services Sector , US Federal Communications Commission
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