Local and state government offices in Mississippi — from local police departments to community college workforce training programs — may be buying dangerous Chinese technology.
Let’s face it: China is not a friend of the American taxpayer.
You may have read the recent headlines about TikTok in China — a popular social media platform with close ties to the Chinese Communist regime. These headlines come after years of warnings about unreliable Chinese telecommunications equipment — cellphones, drones, surveillance cameras, routers, and more — and China’s attempts to use the technology to endanger our country’s national security. Some technologies could be hacked or used for sabotage, according to national security experts.
Congress heeded these warnings and passed legislation in 2018 that prohibits federal agencies from purchasing and using certain types of Chinese technology and equipment. Every time a government office buys this vulnerable technology, it opens a new “back door” into critical network infrastructure, a hole Congress wants to plug.
But a report released last month by the Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET) showed that local and state government offices across the country are still buying untrustworthy Chinese technology.
The federal ban does not apply to state and local governments.
State and local government offices reportedly spent nearly $22 million on Chinese equipment subject to the federal ban. In Mississippi, the figure is closer to $100,000.
Fortunately, some countries have imposed restrictions on the purchase of untrustworthy Chinese technology after recognizing its inherent security risks. Four states in the southeast — Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas — have imposed restrictions on the use of state funds to buy equipment deemed vulnerable to Chinese espionage. Mississippi has not imposed any restrictions on the purchase of such technology and equipment.
My office has identified some prohibited technology purchased in Mississippi using taxpayer money. In our recent audit of state agencies, my office questioned the use of public funds to purchase drone equipment made by DJI that the DoD deems a threat to national security. Federal stimulus money was used to purchase Chinese drone equipment for state agencies.
Even if you’re not a senior diplomat, you should be concerned about China’s aggressive espionage. No Mississippian — or other American — should allow the Chinese government to easily access the communications systems of their local police department or the private health or tax records of their entire family. Local governments and state agencies need to know which companies are on the banned list so they don’t use our taxpayer money to buy from these Chinese businesses.
You can also do your part. First, you can avoid buying commercial personal devices made by companies the federal government doesn’t consider trustworthy. Next, you can encourage local government leaders to conduct basic research before signing any telecom procurement agreements to mitigate security risks. Third, you can reach out to your lawmakers and ask them to support legislation that reflects the federal ban on dangerous Chinese technology.
Shad White is Mississippi’s 42nd State Auditor.