Lawmakers question Google-Huawei partnership

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Five Capitol Hill security hawks are asking Google CEO Sundar Pichai to justify a partnership with Chinese telecommunications manufacturer Huawei.

The June 20 letter, signed by Senators Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) as well as Reps. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), Michael Conaway (R-Texas) and Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), takes Google to task for working with a company that has long been a concern for U.S. intelligence and national security officials.

The lawmakers detail a range of public evidence compiled over the years detailing Huawei's ties to the Chinese government as well as public statements made by intelligence officials warning the American public that using their products could expose them to surveillance by the Chinese intelligence agencies.

The members also questioned why the company announced on June 1 that it would not renew its contract on Project Maven, a Pentagon project designed to integrate AI and machine learning capabilities across military operations. The company walked away from the contract two months after a number of their employees signed an open letter expressing deep moral concerns about working on AI projects for the military.

"We urge you to reconsider Google's partnership with Huawei, particularly since your company recently refused to renew a key research partnership, Project Maven, with the Department of Defense," the members wrote.

While the letter does not mention a specific partnership, Huawei and Google did announce a strategic deal earlier this year integrating Google’s Android Messages across Huawei's smartphone portfolio. Members want to know how Google squares its rationale for partnering with Huawei -- but not DOD -- as well as plans to mitigate any risk that may stem from such partnerships.

FCW has reached out to Google and Huawei for further comment.

Huawei is one of three companies, along with Chinese telecom giant ZTE and Russian cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Labs, that have received increased scrutiny and sanction by the U.S. government over concern their devices and software facilitate espionage by foreign governments. National security worries about Huawei and ZTE date back years and In May, the Pentagon banned the sale of Huawei and ZTE phones at military bases and concessionaires. The Senate version of the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act includes a provision tightening federal procurement prohibitions on Huawei and ZTE devices.

On June 3 the New York Times reported that Facebook had entered into data sharing agreements with at least sixty different device manufacturers that allowed those companies to access vast amounts of user data. That has stimulated interest on Capitol Hill about whether Google and other major tech companies may be doing the same.

Earlier this month, Sen. Mark Warner sent a letter to Larry Page, CEO of Google's parent company Alphabet, asking whether Google had developed similar agreements with mobile device companies, including Chinese firms like Huawei, Xiaomi and Tencent. He also asked how data related to such agreements are stored and whether Google is able to detect if those partners are misusing API data.

"The possibility of Chinese vendors with documented ties to the Chinese Communist Party having access to Facebook's private API (and potentially Alphabet's) – particularly as China develops tools to harness individual level data for surveillance and social control – raises serious national security concerns," Warner wrote.

About the Author

Derek B. Johnson is a former senior staff writer at FCW.


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