Is a dating app a national security asset? Yes, in some cases. Foreign investment in U.S. businesses that collect and maintain U.S. citizens’ sensitive personal data is subject to national security reviews by CFIUS. From social networking to financial services to healthcare to consumer retail, companies across sectors collect, maintain, and have access to the sensitive personal data of U.S. citizens. The implications of the personal data-national security nexus are potentially wide-ranging for foreign investment in U.S. businesses.
The U.S. government has adopted and is implementing a “whole-of-government” strategy to counter China. The whole-of-government approach entails a range of legal and policy measures to curb China’s access to U.S. technology, by lawful and unlawful means. These measures include, but are not limited to, stricter curbs on foreign investment in U.S. technology; restrictions on exports of “emerging technologies” like artificial intelligence; exclusions of Chinese firms from U.S. government and private supply chains through company bans; prosecutions of intellectual property theft; measures to counter “academic espionage” in American academic and research institutions; and, indirectly, and, indirectly, sanctions enforcement.
The United States has adopted a whole-of-government approach to counter China’s “economic aggression” or “economic espionage,” umbrella terms that encompass a range of conduct including IP theft, forced technology transfer, academic espionage, and influence operations in the United States. The whole-of-government approach illustrates that the most strategically significant and complex confrontation between the United States and China is not the “trade war.” Rather, the race to dominate future technologies like artificial intelligence and 5G underpins the most complex legal and policy issues between the two nations. The U.S.-China tech war, and the United States’ whole-of-government strategy, has put Chinese technology companies under the hot light of U.S. legal and political scrutiny. Companies like Huawei and ZTE, relative unknowns in the United States until recently, have found themselves on the wrong side of U.S. law enforcement.
The “Protect Our Universities Act of 2019” is a a bill “to create a task force within the Department of Education to address the threat of foreign government influence and threats to academic research integrity on college campuses, and for other purposes." Among other things, the Bill would restrict foreign student participation in federally funded academic research deemed "sensitive" to national security.
This graphic depicts key issues between the United States and China, as identified by the United States as of January 26, 2019. This is not an exhaustive depiction, but captures key categories and sub-categories of Chinese state and private practices, state policies, and state structural characteristics that are the subject of U.S. government complaints (as raised from within and outside of the Trump Administration).
The Department of Justice (DOJ) recently launched an initiative to “Combat Chinese Economic Espionage.” Announced on November 1, 2018 by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the China Initiative acts on the Trump Administration’s previous findings “concerning China’s practices” and “reflects the Department’s strategic priority of countering Chinese national security threats and reinforces the President’s overall national security strategy.” The China Initiative presents emerging issues for academia, the technology industry, and the private sector broadly.
The Department of Commerce, Bureau of Industry and Security, has begun the process of identifying "emerging technologies" that are essential to national security and, consequently, require export control. New export controls on emerging technologies could be burdensome, depending on the content of regulations and the manner of their enforcement. If the new regulatory regime is burdensome to the point that it prohibits (legally or practically) some emerging technology transfers to foreign parties, companies and others involved in emerging technologies-- particularly their development--may seek arrangements, without evading or otherwise violating ECRA or applicable regulations, to ease collaborations and other engagement with foreign parties, including by some form of technology inversion.
The Department of Commerce, Bureau of Industry and Security on Nov. 19 published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) on the “Review of Controls for Certain Emerging Technologies.” The ANPRM implements the Export Control Reform Act of 2018 and raises diverse legal, regulatory, policy, and commercial issues that cut across sectors and industries. Commerce seeks to advance national security goals without harming the United States’ capacity to lead in science, technology, engineering, and manufacturing. This Regulatory Update provides analysis of the ANPRM, the relevant legal framework, and considerations for commentators.
Measures to curb foreign access to U.S. technology have taken and will likely take various forms that will cut across industries and legal disciplines. Among them, as discussed below, are restrictions on foreign access to and influence on U.S. technology through (1) foreign investment, (2) supply chain exclusions, (3) limits on participation in academic and other research, (4) legal or political curbs on U.S. technology access or transfers through third countries, and (5) countermeasures against foreign control of raw materials essential to technological manufacturing and innovation.
The sentiments expressed by Senator Rubio and others reflect commercial, competition, policy, and strategic concerns held by business, policy makers, defense and national security officials, and others about China and Chinese firms like ZTE and Huawei. But when raised in the context of and as a justification for a specific legal enforcement action, the sentiments blur the lines between what should primarily be an enforcement based on facts and applicable laws, rather than an instrument for advancing wider policy objectives that are not specifically advanced by the laws applicable to the conduct for which ZTE was penalized. And, while Secretary Ross' stated rationale to impose the harsher penalty to change ZTE's behavior may have been sound, the recommendation of the career professionals with expertise in sanctions and export controls enforcement should, perhaps, have carried the day. Secretary Ross' description of the process leading to the export ban and the mess that has followed it give more reason to ask whether, in the first place, the export ban was the appropriate remedy as a matter of applicable laws and the objectives served by them.