Relatively recent government restrictions limiting the involvement of U.S. companies in setting international standards in the area of information and communications technology (ICT) because of concerns about the participation of foreign entities subject to U.S. trade restrictions in the standard-setting activities should be revised in favor of U.S. participation, a presidential advisory panel is recommending.
A review of ICT standards setting by the National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee (NSTAC) found that industry-led international standards efforts are open, transparent and secure, the panel says in a letter its members agreed to on Tuesday and sent to President Biden.
Chinese companies in the ICT space and their being subject to influence and control by the Chinese Communist Party has generated concern in the U.S. and its partners and allies that these companies could gain control over standard-setting processes.
But the NSTAC examination suggests differently.
“The experts who appeared before the NSTAC offered no empirical evidence that China or other governments have comprehensively co-opted the standards process to their own advantage,” the letter to Biden says.
One key finding is that the transparency inherent in international standards processes is a guard against malfeasance.
“Standards participants make contributions that are designed to be subject to broad scrutiny, including the result of published standard being made public,” the NSTAC letter says. “This means that it is unlikely that any potential security vulnerability would be intentionally introduced by one participant without it being observed by another.”
The committee’s findings and recommendations came at the behest of the Biden administration’s request for a review of standards and that U.S. interests are safeguarded. Through a series of interviews with industry, government and academic experts, the NSTAC found that many interpreted a 2019 export control rule, and subsequent clarification in 2020, by the Department of Commerce limited U.S. participation in standard-setting where entities on a U.S. control list were also participating.
“These restrictions make the standards bodies less effective and harm U.S. standards leadership, the consequences of which are likely to be long lasting,” the letter to Biden says. “These restrictions are also not expected to achieve significant security advantages that would justify the economic risk.”
The one caveat in the recommendations is that the Commerce rule should be exempted where national security-controlled technology is not involved.
The committee also recommends that the U.S. endeavor to most global standards bodies meetings, which would “encourage greater industry and U.S. government participation.” To aid this, the government should make it easier for foreign participants by streamlining visa processes for short term stays involving standards and specification meetings.
Ensuring independent, industry-led standards efforts over government-driven models will help guard against regional and country-specific standards, the committee says. It also recommends increased U.S. government investment in strategic, critical and emerging technologies.
“It is critical that the United States makes investments in strategic and emerging technology R&D in key strategic areas that are most compatible with the U.S. technology strategy to drive standards outcomes,” the letter says.