This week, a member of the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) called for a new test of the submarine cables that carry nearly all of the world’s internet traffic. “We must take a closer look at cables with ground handling stations in enemy countries– said FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks (pictured). – These include four existing submarine cables connecting the US and China, most of which are partly owned by Chinese state-owned companies.“.
The United States has repeatedly expressed concern about China’s role in handling network traffic and its potential for espionage. About 300 submarine cables, which carry up to 99% of the world’s data traffic, form the backbone of the Internet. Starks noted that the FCC “must ensure that warring countries and other hostile actors cannot interfere, block or intercept messages they transmit“.
Starks’ announcement comes a few weeks after Google and Facebook ditched Hong Kong’s Pacific Light Cable Network, which connects the United States to Taiwan and the Philippines. A segment of the cable to Hong Kong has already been laid, but it will not be activated after warnings from US intelligence agencies that Beijing may use this channel to penetrate American networks. A source from The Register found the situation amusing, given that the NSA was tapping submarine cables.
Starks made two recommendations to the FCC. First, the commission must create a centralized “interdepartmental working group of national security“. The current monitoring system distributes questions among various institutions that “complicates internal coordination between different bodies and risks an inconsistent approach to national security issues“.
Starks’ second proposal is to consider increasing the FCC’s authority over the use of submarine cables. “Given that the problems associated with these cables will become more complex and important to our national security, we must see if our regulator (authority) is sufficient to meet the current challenges.“Starks said.