Google-Facebook ditch plans to dock giant data cable in Hong Kong

Hong Kong skyline

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Plans for an underwater data cable between Los Angeles and Hong Kong have been dropped after the US government expressed fears that China could steal data from it.

Facebook and Google are among the US tech firms involved in the Pacific Light Cable Network project.

New plans submitted to the US communication authority mention links with the Philippines and Taiwan only.

The 12,800 km (8,000 miles) long cable has already been laid.

However it needs permission from the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in order to operate.

The project was first announced in 2016.

At the time, Google said the cable would “provide enough capacity for Hong Kong to have 80 million concurrent HD video conference calls with Los Angeles”.

The US tech firms are collaborating on the cable via the Pacific Light Data Company. The proposed Hong landing station would have been run by a business owned by China’s Dr Peng Group – one of the country’s largest internet service providers.

A US government committee raised national security concerns about Dr Peng’s involvement in June, citing its “relationship with Chinese intelligence and security services”.

In recent months tensions have been mounting between the US and China.

“We can confirm that the original application for the PLCN cable system has been withdrawn, and a revised application for the US-Taiwan and US-Philippines portions of the system has been submitted,” a spokeswoman for Google told the BBC.

“We continue to work through established channels to obtain cable landing licenses for our undersea cables.”

‘Shot in the foot’

Prof Alan Woodward, a cyber-security expert at Surrey University, said the decision might prove to be counter-productive for the US.

“The whole purpose of having the cable join with Hong Kong was that Hong Kong was meant to become an Asian hub so that US tech firms could start to gain more Asian customers,” he said.

“The US government has in some ways shot their own tech firms in the foot. They’re worried about the influence of Chinese tech firms, but this is preventing US companies from getting into the region at all.”

FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Stark said in a tweet that he “shared the concerns” of the US Department of Justice about China accessing data carried by the cable and would “continue to speak out”.

Prof Woodward said that the US’s caution about data monitoring was understandable – because it also happens in the West.

There is, for example, an office of the British intelligence service GCHQ near Bude in Cornwall, where several transatlantic data cables enter the UK, he said – although its activities are classified.

Related Topics

  • China-US relations

  • Cyber-security
  • Internet

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