Microsoft CEO Satya Narayana Nadella speaks during a presentation at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona. Photo: AFP / Gabriel Bouys

While officials from Washington are trying to convince European allies that using Chinese technology poses a security threat, some EU lawmakers are turning one of the US arguments on its head.

The US has argued that Chinese companies, such as telecommunications equipment maker Huawei, could be forced by Beijing to hand over customer data. After all, companies are required by Chinese law to cooperate with the government on issues relating to national security.

But a US law enacted last year has Europe concerned about the same thing happening, but with American firms.

The Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data Act, also known as the Cloud Act, was passed as part of an appropriations bill last year and allows Washington to compel US-based firms to hand over data, regardless of whether it is stored domestically or overseas.

The legislation has prompted a backlash among European officials, Bloomberg reported this week.

“I don’t mean to compare US and Chinese laws, because obviously they aren’t the same, but what we see is that on both sides, Chinese and American, there is clearly a push to have extraterritorial access to data,” Laure de la Raudiere, a French lawmaker who leads a cybersecurity body, was quoted as saying. “This must be a wake-up call for Europe to accelerate its own, sovereign offer in the data sector.”

Sophie in’t Veld, a Dutch European Parliament lawmaker, recently decried the European Union’s “enormous weakness” to counter Washington’s “unlimited data hunger.”

“Because of the Cloud Act, the long arm of the American authorities reaches European citizens, contradicting all EU law.… Would the Americans accept it if the EU would grant itself extraterritorial jurisdiction on US soil? And would the Commission also propose negotiations with Russia or China, if they would adopt their own Russian or Chinese Cloud Act?” she said.

“The more we dig into the Cloud Act, the more worrying it is,” said Guillaume Poupard, the chief of French cybersecurity agency ANSSI. “It’s a way for the US to enter into negotiations … but it has an immediate extraterritorial effect that’s unbearable.”

Nonetheless, even if US accusations about the threat of Chinese firms bowing to Beijing’s demands to hand over data sound a tinge hypocritical, European concern about China is still real. The head of Britain’s signals-intelligence agency GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) warned on Monday that Chinese dominance in the area of telecommunications infrastructure was a long-term challenge.

“The strategic challenge of China’s place in the era of globalized technology is much bigger than just one telecommunications equipment company … it’s a first-order strategic challenge for us all,” Jeremy Fleming said during a speech in Singapore, according to Agence France-Presse.

“It’s a hugely complex strategic challenge which will span the next few decades…. How we deal with it will be crucial for prosperity and security way beyond 5G contracts.”

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