GOP bill would limit foreign student involvement in sensitive research projects

GOP bill would limit foreign student involvement in sensitive research projects
© Greg Nash

A House GOP lawmaker on Tuesday introduced a bill that aims to clamp down on intellectual property theft at U.S. universities by limiting the involvement of certain foreign students in sensitive research projects.

The legislation sponsored by Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, comes amid concern that China and other countries are seeking to steal technology and information tied to U.S. national security.

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The measure calls for establishing a task force at the Department of Education to oversee sensitive research projects being conducted at American colleges and universities. The projects would also be monitored with the help of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).

"The Task Force will monitor foreign student participation in sensitive research projects," the bill says. "Students that have past or current citizenship in China, Russia, Iran, or North Korea will not be allowed access to sensitive research projects, unless granted a waiver by the Director of National Intelligence."

The legislation does not specify any enforcement mechanisms beyond broadly stating that the "federal funding agency for the project will determine the appropriate course of action."

Under the bill, ODNI would be required to track entities that pose a threat to sensitive projects. Chinese telecom firms Huawei Technologies Co. and ZTE, as well as Russia-based cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab, were cited by Banks as examples of companies that pose threats.

“Countries like China may use subversive tactics to gain footholds in major STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] programs in U.S. universities to create a pipeline of data and information back to the mainland," Banks said in a statement Tuesday. "China is also using telecommunications giants Huawei Technologies and ZTE as entry points into the United States’ data networks, both on and off university campuses."

Banks said he was motivated to introduce the bill after he and other lawmakers urged Education Secretary Betsy DeVosElizabeth (Betsy) Dee DeVosTrump awards Medal of Valor, civilian honors to responders in Dayton and El Paso shootings Trump administration fines Michigan State University .5M in Larry Nassar case Government watchdog finds expanded student loan forgiveness program still rejecting most applicants MORE to address the matter.

"We must get tough against these covert threats on college campuses and limit the effectiveness of their information-gathering missions," he said Tuesday. "Clear-eyed vigilance is essential if America and our allies are to remain free from Beijing’s influence and espionage."

The bill would require the task force to report its findings and provide a set of recommendations to Congress twice a year, while sharing information with universities and other relevant educational institutions regarding best practices and espionage threats.