Abrams proposes closing ‘critical loophole’ involving Chinese tech

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Stacey Abrams unveiled what’s likely her final policy proposal before the Nov. 8 election, pledging to close what she called a “critical loophole” in the state’s technology infrastructure that could leave systems vulnerable to hacking from Chinese government agents.

Her proposal Thursday follows a report by the Center for Security and Emerging Technology that concluded Georgia is one of only five states that have taken steps to restrict officials from buying Chinese telecom equipment that could pose a national security threat.

But the report, published earlier this month, warned of loopholes in Georgia’s restrictions that could open the door to digital espionage. Abrams, who trails Gov. Brian Kemp in polls, said she would quickly seek to tighten the law to block “dangerous” tech from China.

“The current supply chain crisis has exposed just how vulnerable our country could be to malicious attacks from bad actors,” she said, “and it is vital to close this loophole immediately to protect our national security and the safety of millions of Georgians.”

The study highlighted a newly enacted Georgia law designed to ban companies “owned or operated” by the Chinese government from seeking state contracts. Firms that lie about their affiliation would face a fine of at least $250,000 under the rules.

But the report’s authors concluded that the law focuses on vendors with links to Chinese authorities rather than the equipment and services they provide. That means third-party providers could “legally sell compromised” equipment to state officials. It also said vague language makes the limits difficult to enforce.

Abrams said she would push legislation that would bar state agencies from buying communications technology that is restricted at the federal level. Former President Donald Trump signed a law in 2018 that banned federal agencies from using products from some of the largest Chinese tech firms.

She would also broaden the state’s restrictions on purchasing equipment or services from companies owned, controlled by or headquartered in foreign nations “as much as feasibly possible.” And she’d review all state contractors with ties to authoritarian governments.

The proposal is among dozens of policy initiatives the Democrat has pushed in her rematch against Kemp, who has focused more on his first-term record than promoting a sweeping agenda for a second term. Abrams has also pledged to legalize gambling, expand Medicaid, hike teacher pay and rewrite criminal justice policies.