U.S. recommends approving Google, Meta undersea data cable to Asia

FILE PHOTO: The logo for Google LLC is seen at their offices in Manhattan, New York City
FILE PHOTO: The logo for Google LLC is seen at their office in Manhattan, New York City, New York, U.S., November 17, 2021. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

December 18, 2021

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The Biden administration on Friday recommended Alphabet’s Google and Facebook parent Meta get permission to use an undersea cable system to handle growing internet traffic with Asia.

The administration urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to grant licenses for the companies to send and receive data on the existing 8,000-mile Pacific Light Cable Network. The undersea fiber-optic cable system connects the United States, Taiwan, the Philippines and Hong Kong.

Undersea cables transmit nearly all the world’s internet data traffic. Meta sought permission to use the Phillipines-to-United States portion, while Google has asked for permission to connect to Taiwan.

The companies committed to protect the privacy and security of Americans’ data, particularly against China’s intelligence operations.

The plan by Google and Meta abandoned a previous proposal to use the network’s cable to Hong Kong, which is controlled by Beijing. Multiple U.S. government agencies recommended blocking that plan in 2020.

The Justice Department said the national security agreements with Google and Meta were needed given China’s “sustained efforts to acquire the sensitive personal data of millions of U.S. persons.”

The Chinese Embassy in Washington and Google did not immediately comment.

Google said in 2020 it needed the data connections to handle growing traffic between its data centers in Taiwan and the United States.

A Meta spokesperson said the “cable system increases internet capacity” between the United States and Philippines “to help people stay connected and share content.” The cables are secure and data is protected through advanced encryption, it said.

Under the agreements, Google and Meta must conduct annual assessments of risk to sensitive data, and they have to be able to restrict or stop data traffic on the cables within 24 hours.

Around 300 subsea cables form the backbone of the internet, carrying 99% of the world’s data traffic.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Diane Craft and Cynthia Osterman)