President Joe Biden on Thursday signed legislation that will prohibit companies that the US considers a threat to national security from getting licenses for new gear from US regulators.
The Secure Equipment Act bars the Federal Communications Commission from approving applications from certain tech equipment makers, like Huawei and ZTE, that the government says pose a national security risk. This new law is part of a greater effort to crack down on Chinese telecom equipment companies, amid concern that gear made by Chinese companies with close ties to the Chinese government could be used for espionage against Americans.
The Senate unanimously passed the Secure Equipment Act last month, and the House voted 420-4 in favor of the legislation earlier in the month.
FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr said in May that the FCC has approved more than 3,000 applications from Huawei since 2018. He added that the Secure Equipment Act would help ensure that “insecure gear” from companies like Huawei and ZTE wouldn’t find its way into US communications networks.
Like the Trump administration, Biden has been taking a tough stance regarding China’s role as a leader in 5G wireless technology and the country’s use of technology to conduct surveillance on its citizens. National security agencies have warned of the dangers of using gear from Huawei and ZTE and warned against letting Chinese telecommunications companies operate in the US. Politicians on Capitol Hill have been sounding the alarm, too.
The Chinese government and those companies have repeatedly pushed back against US claims that equipment from Chinese manufacturers poses a security risk.
Even as lawmakers worked to pass legislation in Congress, the FCC in June voted unanimously to advance plans to create rules banning the approval of Chinese equipment for use in US networks. The FCC’s proposed rules would also revoke prior equipment authorizations issued to Chinese companies.
Huawei and ZTE didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on Biden’s signing of the Secure Equipment Act. But in June, Huawei called the FCC’s measure “misguided and unnecessarily punitive.”
The FCC has also worked to ban Chinese telecommunications operators from the US. Last month, it voted to revoke the authorization for China Telecom’s US subsidiary to operate in the United States.
The signing of the bill into law comes days before Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping are expected to meet in a virtual summit. The meeting, set for Monday, comes amid tensions over issues involving trade, human rights and military activities.