August 5, 2021

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Pompeo takes aim at Chinese tech firms over data theft concerns

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference at the State Department in Washington, U.S., July 8, 2020.

Tom Brenner | Reuters

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday that the Trump administration would seek to block the Chinese government’s efforts aimed at stealing American citizens’ private information through telecommunications and social media.

“The infrastructure of this next 100 years must be a communications infrastructure that is based on a Western ideal of private property and protection of private citizens information in a transparent way,” the nation’s top diplomat said at the State Department. He accused Chinese hardware and software companies of not following this model.

Pompeo’s remarks come two days after he said the U.S. was looking at banning TikTok as well as other Chinese social media apps citing national security concerns. He explained in a Monday interview with Fox News that the Trump administration will examine the infrastructure of Chinese social media apps as it did with Chinese telecommunication giants Huawei and ZTE.

“The comments that I made about a particular company earlier this week fall in the context of us evaluating the threat from the Chinese Communist Party,” Pompeo told reporters at the State Department, referencing TikTok.

“We are now evaluating each instance because we believe the U.S. citizens data that they have on their phones or in their system or in their health-care records, we want to make sure that the Chinese Communist Party doesn’t have a way to easily access that,” he added.

Read more: TikTok beefs up lobbying team as U.S. government scrutiny intensifies

Pompeo, who has previously described Huawei and other Chinese state-backed tech companies as “Trojan horses for Chinese intelligence,” did not elaborate on the steps the Trump administration would take to protect American citizens’ private information.

In November, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States began an inquiry into the application over cybersecurity concerns.

In December, the Defense Information Systems Agency advised that all Department of Defense personnel should not use the Chinese-owned social media platform, citing a “potential risk associated with using the TikTok app.” A year prior, the Pentagon halted sales of Huawei and ZTE mobile phones and modems on military bases around the world citing national security concerns.

Read more: Pentagon: ‘Huawei is too close to the government’

U.S. officials have long complained that Chinese intellectual property theft has cost the economy billions of dollars in revenue and thousands of jobs and that it threatens national security. Beijing maintains that it does not engage in intellectual property theft.

In a blistering address Tuesday, FBI Director Christopher Wray described Chinese espionage and intellectual property theft against the United States as “one of the largest transfers of wealth in human history.”

“The stakes could not be higher, and the potential economic harm to American businesses and the economy as a whole almost defies calculation,” Wray said of the Chinese government during an address at the Hudson Institute. 

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