The U.S. Department of Commerce is failing to protect national security and keep sensitive technology out of the hands of China’s military, according to a U.S. congressional advisory report seen by Reuters.
According to the report of the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, the Department of Commerce was slow to compile a list of sensitive technologies that needed to be investigated before being exported to China.
The delay in developing the list of emerging and fundamental technologies, as required by a 2018 law, could exacerbate national security risks, the report said.
The Department of Commerce, entrusted with strengthening U.S. export control laws, “has so far failed to meet its responsibilities,” the report said, “Unfinished business: export controls and foreign investment reforms.”
In a statement, the Department of Commerce declined to comment directly on the lack of a list, but noted that it has published four rules on controlling emerging technologies, and more are pending.
It also said it had expanded the military rule for end users and added companies to its list of entities, restricting U.S. suppliers from selling to companies such as Huawei Technologies and Hangzhou Hikvision.
In 2018, Congress tightened U.S. export policies and the process of investigating foreign investment in response to efforts by Chinese institutions to acquire sensitive U.S. technology and use civilian innovation for the military.
The report questions whether a delay of more than two years with the development of the list should be investigated by the inspector general of the department of trade. It also asks whether the authority to apply export controls should be delegated to another agency.
Congress passed the 2018 Export Control Reform Act to make it more important to export key technologies to opponents such as China.
The law ordered the Department of Commerce to work with other agencies to identify emerging or cutting-edge technologies and so-called fundamental technologies that are essential to making key items such as semiconductors that need to be controlled.
In November 2018, the department published 45 examples of emerging technologies, including face and voice recognition, but no list was ever finalized. And that should suggest another list of fundamental technologies, instead of asking for input in August on how to define the category.
Eric Hirschhorn, a former secretary of commerce, said the criticism of the agency was unfair. “They already control emerging technologies to such an extent that it can be done, which is limited by the need to be specific,” he said. “Fundamental technologies are by definition widely available outside the United States, making their control difficult, if not impossible.”
The report did note some actions of Handel.
The department has proposed regulating gene editing software, which could make it easier to develop biological weapons, but the rule has not yet been finalized. It also unveiled an interim rule on geospatial images involving AI neural networks.
Advanced surveillance technology has also received some attention, including on export controls to promote human rights, given its use in Xinjiang for the detention of Muslim-Uyghurs minority. But the department still has no control over newer types of advanced surveillance software, the report said.
The US-China Commission was established by Congress two decades ago to report on the national security implications of trade with China. The chair is now chaired by Carolyn Bartholomew, appointed by House chair Nancy Pelosi.