White House criticizes ban on technology products from China

The White House on Friday came out against a new law restricting government purchases of Chinese technology systems.

The restriction was part of a temporary government funding measure that President Obama signed last week. 

{mosads}”The undefined terms of this provision will make implementation challenging,” White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in an email.

“It could prove highly disruptive without significantly enhancing the affected agencies’ cybersecurity. While the Administration has raised concerns about the cyber threats emanating from China, resolving this issue requires open dialogue between the U.S. and China,” she added.

Hayden said the administration plans to work with Congress to revise the provision as part of the 2014 appropriations process.

A coalition of U.S. business groups also announced their opposition to the provision in a letter earlier this week. The groups warned that the law could hamper the ability of agencies to buy new computer systems and could prompt China or other countries to adopt their own restrictions targeting U.S. companies.

The provision, which was backed by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), bars select federal agencies from buying information technology that has been “produced, manufactured or assembled” by companies with ties to the Chinese government unless the FBI or a similar agency first determines the purchase would be in the national interest. 

The restriction covers NASA, the National Science Foundation and the Commerce and Justice departments.

U.S. lawmakers have expressed concern that the Chinese government could use the equipment of Chinese businesses to tap into U.S. communications networks and spy on people in the United States. In particular, lawmakers have accused Chinese telecom equipment makers Huawei and ZTE of posing a threat to U.S. national security.

David Fagan, an attorney who works on cybersecurity issues for the firm Covington & Burling, said the provision restricting Chinese technology is vague, and it is unclear how agencies would be expected to comply with it. 

He said devices such as iPhones, which are assembled in China, could potentially fall under the law’s restrictions, although he noted that was likely not the intent of lawmakers.

“We just don’t know how broad it is,” he said.

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