State and local agencies buying banned Chinese equipment, report finds

traffic_analyzer/Getty Images

Chinese-made smartphones, surveillance cameras, temperature scanners, handheld radios and networking equipment have been deployed in government offices, transit systems, schools, hospitals and prisons.

U.S. policymakers have moved to block federal agencies and critical networks from using some foreign-made technologies that pose a threat to national security. But state and local government entities in nearly every state have purchased technologies from banned companies in recent years to support a host of public services, according to a report from Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology released on Wednesday.

The report, which examined public government procurement records provided by GovSpend, found that at least 1,681 state and local entities in 49 states purchased information and communications technology and services, or ICTS, from five banned Chinese companies between 2015 and 2021. 

“Collectively, these entities conducted nearly 5,700 transactions involving a wide range of covered equipment, including but not limited to smartphones, surveillance cameras, temperature scanners, handheld radios and networking equipment,” the report said, adding that the acquired technologies have been deployed “in schools, hospitals, prisons, public transit systems and government offices around the country.”

Jack Corrigan, a research analyst at the Center for Security and Emerging Technology who co-authored the report, told Nextgov that the 1,681 state and local entities identified in the report likely represents “a lowball estimate,” since the public procurement records analyzed for the report were not standardized in terms of listed information. 

In addition to Corrigan, the report was co-authored by Michael Kratsios—the managing director at Scale AI who previously served as chief technology officer during the Trump administration—and Sergio Fontanez, an associate at the Holland & Knight law firm.

Section 889 of the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act prohibited federal agencies from using technologies or services provided by those five Chinese companies—Huawei, ZTE, Hikvision, Dahua and Hytera—as well as from working with any contractors that use equipment from those firms. As the report noted, Section 889 “is the first and most well-known regulation targeting foreign ICTS on the grounds of national security.”

“If we see untrustworthy foreign technology as a national security issue, then it needs to be handled by every level of government,” Corrigan said.

Although five states—Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas and Vermont—have also “adopted measures to restrict the purchase of untrustworthy ICTS on national security grounds,” the report said that “these regulations are generally not structured to deal with foreign technology threats effectively.” Only one state—Vermont—was found to not have any state or local government entities that purchased banned ICTS covered under Section 889 during the examined time period. 

Congress and the federal government have moved in recent years to further prohibit the use of some foreign-made technologies and equipment, particularly those from Chinese and Russian companies. These legislative and regulatory efforts have largely been enacted over concerns that “covered technologies could contain secret backdoors or vulnerabilities that are deliberately baked into the technologies.”

“For U.S. national security leaders, the broad reach of these firms—and their integration into the networks of the United States and its allies—presented major national security and economic threats,” the report said. “If the [Chinese Communist Party] wanted to use the Chinese tech industry as a conduit for espionage and other nefarious activities, it could potentially gain access to all these global networks.”

While efforts to purge foreign ICTS have largely focused on federal services and agencies, the report said that the federal laws and regulatory measures already in place could be broadened to focus more on state and local government procurement processes, since “the U.S. government is in the best position to identify vulnerable ICTS and develop strategies to eliminate them from nationwide supply chains.”

The report noted, for example, that the Commerce Department’s ICTS rule—which restricts the procurement of technology and equipment from untrustworthy foreign companies—”has the potential to significantly strengthen the federal government’s ability to crackdown on foreign technology threats across the broader U.S. market, but only if the Commerce Department implements the authority effectively.”

And the Federal Communications Commission also has the authority to determine what foreign ICTS can be legally sold in the U.S. under the Secure Equipment Act of 2021, allowing the agency to “keep untrustworthy foreign technologies from entering the U.S. market,” according to the report.

“Given their resource constraints and limited mandate, state and local governments should not be expected to independently grapple with the national security implications of foreign ICTS,” the report said. “However, by adhering to federal rules on foreign ICTS procurement, state and local governments can protect their digital infrastructure and keep procurement practices up to date without constant regulatory, administrative or legislative interventions.”

As for state and local entities that are already using foreign-made technologies and equipment deemed a national security risk, the report said that the federal government should continue to support programs that replace “compromised ICTS with more trustworthy alternatives.” These so-called rip and replace programs include the FCC’s Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Reimbursement Program, which covers the cost of removing and replacing equipment from Chinese firms Huawei and ZTE. As Corrigan noted, however, in just the first round of applications for the program, “the requests far exceed the available funds.”

“It's likely impossible to replace every deployment of untrustworthy foreign technology across the U.S., so policymakers should allocate these funds to the areas with the greatest potential security risks,” Corrigan added. 

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.