By Doug Kelly
The U.S. technology industry plays a critical role in protecting the national security of America and her global allies. In fact, as Russia continues its brutal invasion of Ukraine, the world is witnessing first-hand how U.S. tech companies have stopped the Kremlin’s malicious cyberattacks, thwarted misinformation campaigns, unplugged authoritarian propaganda, and exposed on-the-ground atrocities that have helped harden world opinion against Russia’s unprovoked war.
But some in Congress continue to press for anti-innovation regulations that would target America’s most successful tech companies. Combined, their short-sighted bills could hamstring American innovation, limit the products and markets tech companies can make and compete in, prohibit merger activity, and require them to share customer data with their state-backed Chinese counterparts. But this political agenda threatens America’s national security and could hand China – and, by extension, its authoritarian allies – an innovation advantage that America could not regain.
Consider just these three national security items from the past ten days:
- China “dual use” innovation growth threatens U.S. security: As part of its plan to become an innovation superpower, China said last week it will provide even more financial support for technology innovation. This unspecified new level of funding comes on top of China’s plans to invest $1.4 trillion between 2020 and 2025 to advance its cutting-edge technological capacity in areas such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing, 5G telecom, and advanced manufacturing. Many of these technologies have dual civilian-military use, and China is “at or near the lead on numerous science fields,” including AI and quantum, according to the Pentagon’s latest report to Congress on China’s military power. China has its eyes dead set on overtaking the U.S.’ technological edge, and is making significant investments toward that goal.
- Experts warns of national security threats from anti-innovation bills: In a newly-released letter, seven prominent former national security officials are raising concerns that anti-innovation legislation in Congress could pose a threat to U.S. security. The former officials from intelligence, defense, and homeland security agencies, warn that pending legislation aimed at U.S. tech companies could give foreign rivals “unfettered access” to U.S. software and hardware, and leave the platforms less equipped to protect against disinformation, cyber threats, data breaches, and intellectual property theft.
- Former Pentagon data chief says “urgent investments” needed to counter adversary tech gains: In April 2022, the U.S. Department of Defense’s outgoing chief data officer, David Spirk, warned that the Pentagon needs to accelerate efforts to counter adversaries who are developing military tools supported by advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and quantum science. Spirk called for “urgent investments” in quantum computers – an emerging technology China is focused on that could break all of America’s commercial and military encryption. The National Security Agency said last year that an adversary’s use of a quantum computer “could be devastating” to the U.S. and its national security systems.
The answer to these national security challenges is not for Congress to uproot America’s innovation ecosystem and punish our franchise players. Instead, Congress and the Pentagon need to leverage the investments and capabilities of U.S. technology companies and help unleash even more private and public sector innovation.
For example, America’s biggest tech companies invest tens of billions of dollars annually to gain the upper hand against China and other authoritarian regimes in the strategic technologies that will determine the future – including artificial intelligence, 5G, quantum computing, extended reality, and the Internet of Things (IoT). Many are “dual use” technologies, with both commercial and military applications. Additionally, part of the Pentagon’s planning process is to work better with private industry to develop high-tech systems. By tapping into commercial technologies, the Department of Defense can more quickly deploy operationally ready capabilities that evolve as technology and our adversaries’ capabilities progress.
But if Congress restricts the business lines America’s tech companies can participate in or it depletes overall corporate sources (one study found the cost of anti-innovation legislation to exceed $300 billion), that will have a chilling effect on private sector investments in these future technologies, siphoning away critical funding, and giving China and its “national champion” companies added momentum.
Rather than tie the hands of our largest tech companies with rules that don’t apply to their Chinese counterparts, Congress could accelerate innovation by encouraging even greater investment here at home, especially in domestic production of microchips. Lawmakers could also eliminate cumbersome regulations that are slowing down startup growth opportunities.
Perhaps most importantly, before passing any legislation, Congress must fully explore the national security impacts of these bills. During the Senate Judiciary Committee debate on one of the antitrust bills, Senators from both parties raised concerns about the bill’s potential impact on U.S. national security, including Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), Senator Chris Coons (D-DE), Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who worried about making sure “we’re not inadvertently harming our national security.”
To date, none of their national security concerns have been addressed. No hearings on these national security issues have been scheduled. And no comprehensive national security assessment has been ordered.
Technology is not just another sector – it’s the very backbone of our country’s security, our economic prosperity, and core democratic values like expression. Through short-sighted legislation, Congress already handed over our manufacturing edge to China. It can’t make that same mistake again with technology. The stakes are too high.