US comms watchdog calls for more scrutiny of submarine cables that land in 'adversary countries'

And then mentions China 18 times and calls for dedicated agency to regulate international data links


One of the four commissioners of America's communications regulator has called for more scrutiny of submarine cables between the Land of the Free and "adversary countries".

"We must take a closer look at cables with landing locations in adversary countries," said Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Geoffrey Starks at a meeting on Wednesday. "This includes the four existing submarine cables connecting the US and China, most of which are partially owned by Chinese state-owned companies."

Starks' statements come weeks after Google and Facebook dropped the Hong Kong leg of the Pacific Light Cable Network, a submarine cable linking the USA with Taiwan and the Philippines. The segment of cable connecting Hong Kong as already been laid, but will not be activated following warnings from American security agencies that Beijing could use the link to infiltrate American networks. Funny stuff given the NSA tapped submarine cables, according to a source.

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US federal agencies are worried by China's growing role in the development of submarine cables. They have warned that several high-profile projects in the works or recently completed have been backed or constructed by Chinese companies with connections to central government in Beijing.

In response to the increasingly important role submarine cables play, Starks said the US "must ensure that adversary countries and other hostile actors can't tamper with, block, or intercept the communications they carry".

To do so, Starks laid out two recommendations for the FCC to take on. First, the commission should establish a centralized "national security inter-bureau task force" to review national security issues. The current watchdog system distributes issues to various bureaus, which "makes internal coordination challenging and risks inconsistent treatment of national security issues between different bureaus".

His second proposal is to consider an increase in the FCC's authority over submarine cables. "Given that the issues surrounding these cables will only become more complex and important to our national security, we must take a look at whether our regulatory authority is sufficient to meet the moment," he said. ®

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