Last week, Congress quietly passed a bill that will make it much more difficult for the US government to buy computer equipment from Chinese companies, amid a spate of cyberattacks linked to Beijing. But the unintended consequences could ensnare Apple’s iPhone and other devices sold by US firms that are assembled in China.
A continuing budget resolution that is awaiting President Obama’s signature bans several federal agencies, including NASA and the Justice and Commerce Departments, from purchasing any “information technology system” that was “produced, manufactured or assembled” by entities “owned, directed, or subsidized by the People’s Republic of China,” unless the agency’s chief and the FBI determine whether there is a cybersecurity threat and conclude that the purchase is in the US national interest. The clause was first spotted by Stewart A. Baker, a lawyer and former Homeland Security official, who writes the Skating on Stilts blog.
Congress has long worried that buying equipment from Chinese technology companies like Huawei could lead to more hacking of US computer systems—especially since a growing body of evidence implicates the Chinese government in widespread cyberattacks on western governments and corporations. (The suspicious death of a American engineer in Singapore who had business links to Huawei has also caused alarm on Capitol Hill.)