Rep. Tom O'Halleran sounding alarm about 5G security
Rep. Tom O'Halleran is part of a growing bipartisan coalition of lawmakers who are sounding the alarm over Chinese fifth generation, or 5G, technology equipment.
Those officials see the Chinese company Huawei as a national security threat. Huawei is the world's largest seller of telecommunications equipment.
O'Halleran, D-Ariz., and others are concerned that the U.S. lacks a comprehensive and well-organized 5G strategy, particularly when the U.S. is engaged in strategic competition with China.
Earlier this year, the U.S. House of Representatives passed bipartisan legislation to compel the White House to compile a national strategy for U.S. 5G networks. O'Halleran is a co-sponsor of the bill, which has companion legislation in the Senate and is likely to reach President Trump's desk.
The Secure 5G and Beyond Act requires a "whole of government" strategy to boost American competitiveness, protect American's privacy, assess security threats, and address U.S. allies' telecommunication security.
Although President Donald Trump has touted the importance of 5G networks to American prosperity and national security, his administration has yet to issue a national strategy aimed at leading and coordinating federal agencies tasked with overseeing U.S. telecommunications logistics and security.
What are lawmakers concerned about 5G and Huawei
5G is the latest iteration of wireless technology. It will facilitate hyper-fast connectivity between devices that could impact everything from military operations to driverless cars to the speeds at which consumers stream and download movies. 5G infrastructure is necessary to manage the ever-increasing number of internet-connected devices such as cell phones, vacuums and other "smart" devices.
O'Halleran told The Arizona Republic that he co-sponsored the legislation because he recognizes the threats associated with existing and future telecommunications networks.
Those threats come, in part, from the possibility that the United States and its allies may maintain or install new Huawei products. Huawei's links to the Chinese government mean the Chinese Communist Party could penetrate U.S. systems to spy on governments and private citizens.
Huawei's founder, Ren Zhengfi, was an engineer in the People's Liberation Army during the Cultural Revolution and is a current party member.
China's vague 2015 and 2017 National Security laws give the Chinese Communist Party a legal backdoor into Chinese companies and a means to force those companies to turn over information to the government.
The party also requires private Chinese companies to set up party units within those companies.
The U.S. Justice Department has accused Huawei of a decades-long effort to steal intellectual property and trade secrets from U.S. companies.
Huawei has maintained it is not a security threat and denies any wrongdoing.
House 5G bill wants strategy for allies
The House-passed Secure 5G and Beyond Act directs the White House to include a strategy on how to assist allies in securing their own 5G infrastructure.
The U.S. has pressured allies and threatened to review its intelligence-sharing programs should those countries use Huawei equipment.
In late January, the United Kingdom announced it would allow Huawei in limited parts of its 5G infrastructure and said it could limit the associated security risks. Limited options and economic costs are the top reasons why the U.K. has split with the U.S. over Huawei. Other countries like Germany and Canada are still deciding what to do.
Huawei is able to offer its products at a lower cost than competitors in part because the Chinese Communist Party has given Huawei government subsidies and access to financing. In addition, the Justice Department said Huawei's theft of intellectual property and trade secrets gave it a significant competitive advantage.
Lacking these advantages, Huawei's competitors, including Sweden's Ericsson and Findland's Nokia, have had difficulty competing. There is no significant U.S. competitor to Huawei in the 5G space.
5G concerns are bipartisan
Both Republicans and Democrats are voicing concern over Huawei and the Chinese Communist Party's support of the company.
In February, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told participants at the Munich Security Conference that "China is seeking to export its digital autocracy through its telecommunication giant, Huawei" and warned that "nations cannot cede our telecommunication infrastructure to China for financial expediency. Such an ill-conceived concession will only embolden (Chinese President) Xi (Jinping) as he undermines democratic values, human rights, economic independence and national security."
Both Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., have expressed concern over the roll out of 5G, particularly in rural areas.
Cost considerations impact states like Arizona that have vast rural areas served by smaller telecommunications carriers. Some of those carriers have used Huawei's equipment.
O'Halleran said he wants to help those companies remove that equipment and install new systems so that people's personal information can be kept at the highest level of security possible.
"The administration must be on top of these issues. We have to do something at a much higher level than we have. It requires the development of a comprehensive inter-agency strategy," he said.