BELL: Don’t Let Congress Jeopardize Texas’ Data Security

China wants to undermine our national security. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Texas.

There are credible threats that Chinese nationals are buying up thousands of acres here to spy on American military installations. But the Chinese Communist Party isn’t just interested in our property. It also wants to control our financial services.

According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, the country obtained the personal information of thousands of Texans through an organized criminal security breach in February. In a House Appropriations Committee hearing, DPS Director Steven McCraw said the state is coordinating with federal agencies to get to the bottom of this matter. Unfortunately, however, some members of the United States Congress are considering taking action that could undercut those data protection efforts in one fell swoop, opening the door for even more of Texans’ data falling into the wrong hands.

UnionPay, a Chinese state-owned company, was designed to serve as the national payment system for the communist country. It’s trying to muscle its way into the American market through a new bill in Congress, the Credit Card Competition Act, which would allow the company to process credit cards in the U.S. Millions of Americans could have their confidential financial information fall into the hands of this hostile foreign government if this happens.

Many Texas lawmakers and government officials note the dangers of TikTok, another Chinese-owned platform, spying on Americans and collecting their personal data for the Chinese Communist Party. Last year, FBI Director Christopher Wray said that this presents national security concerns, including “the possibility that the Chinese government could use it to control data collection on millions of users.” UnionPay poses this exact same threat.

China is desperate to gain all the information it can on Texans, from who we know to where we go. The communist state even wants our genetic data. If China can collect a treasure trove of sensitive data just from a video-sharing app, imagine what they can do with their own credit card company. Americans’ financial information is far more valuable to the Chinese than what dance videos we enjoy.

Texans should be particularly concerned about this due to the cyber crimes China has already perpetrated right here in our own state. Our universities have already fallen victim to Chinese predation. “We are a target,” Tedd Mitchell, chancellor of Texas Tech University, declared last Fall. He wasn’t being hyperbolic. A former researcher allegedly stole tons of valuable data from Texas Tech before fleeing the country. The university doesn’t even know how much was lost in the process.

The University of North Texas had to suspend hosting 15 scholars funded by the Chinese Scholarship Council back in 2020. The reason? The FBI informed the school that these foreign scholars were required by their own government to send all their research back to the homeland.

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Zhengdong Cheng, a chemical engineering professor at Texas A&M University, pled guilty last year to charges that he lied about his connections to Chinese institutions. Cheng worked closely on NASA operations and would’ve been able to send plenty of sensitive information back to Beijing.

This problem isn’t just limited to Texas universities. Shan Shi, a Houston-based Chinese businessman, was convicted in 2019 for conspiring to steal trade secrets, where he, according to the Department of Justice, “attempted to obtain sophisticated U.S. technology with both military and civilian uses for the ultimate benefit of China.”

The Chinese data threat is not just an ocean away; it’s right here in our cities, our universities, and even on our phones. So why should we give even more access to the Chinese to spy on us? Do we really trust a platform created to serve the national needs of China to protect our information? Do we really think UnionPay won’t hand over our financial information to their government?

The last thing our lawmakers need to do is serve Chinese interests. The Credit Card Competition Act will allow the CCP to infest our financial system and data mine even more. This isn’t some faraway problem–this is something that will harm ordinary Texans.

Our representatives must put national security first and ensure that China doesn’t gain another foothold in our homeland.

Chris Bell served as a U.S. representative for Texas’ 25th congressional district.

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