Cybersecurity

Biden signs into law bill to secure telecommunications systems against foreign threats

Associated Press/Alex Brandon

President Biden on Thursday signed into law bipartisan legislation to secure telecommunications systems against potential foreign threats, particularly from those linked to China. 

The Secure Equipment Act will ban the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from considering or issuing authorization for products from companies on the FCC’s “covered list,” which includes Chinese telecommunications groups Huawei and ZTE. 

Last year, the FCC unanimously voted to formally classify both Huawei and ZTE as national security threats, with the agency citing their ties to the Chinese Communist Party and espionage concerns. The national security threat designation blocks U.S. telecommunications companies from using FCC funds to purchase products from these companies. 

The bill had almost unanimous support on Capitol Hill, having been passed by the Senate by voice vote last month, and by the House the week prior by a vote of 420-4. 

In announcing the bill’s signing, the White House thanked the sponsors, Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), along with the House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.).

The four lawmakers celebrated the bill’s passage following the Senate vote last month. 

Rubio said in a statement that “Chinese state-directed companies like Huawei and ZTE are known national security threats and have no place in our telecommunications network,” while Markey in a separate statement stressed the need to “animate our technology with our values.” 

Scalise at the time said the bill “forcefully signals to the Chinese Communist Party that America is committed to protecting the privacy and security of our citizens,” while Eshoo said separately that she was “eager to see this bill signed into law by the President soon.”

Both Huawei and ZTE have been targets of pushback by bipartisan members of Congress and the Trump administration, also due to national security threats that the companies have denied. 

Huawei, one of the largest global providers of 5G equipment, recently reported a major drop in sales due to measures taken to block the company from doing business in the United States, which have also included the Commerce Department adding both Huawei and ZTE to its “entity list,” effectively blacklisting the groups. 

Former President Trump last year signed into law a measure that banned the use of federal funds to purchase Huawei equipment, and established a $1 billion fund to help the FCC assist smaller telecom companies with ripping out and replacing existing equipment deemed to be a threat.

Tags Anna Eshoo Biden China Chinese telecommunications Donald Trump Ed Markey Huawei Joe Biden Marco Rubio Steve Scalise ZTE

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