US government says a whole lot of not much about the telecoms security issue

Half a year after US President Trump issued an executive order calling for action against perceived telecoms security threats, some vague progress has been announced.

The US Department of Commerce has got as far as proposing a new rule, through which the country will be able to work out whether a given ICTS (information and communications technology and services) supplier is dodgy or not. Since it has been six months since the Prez asked it to get on the case as a matter of the highest priority, it’s reasonable to expect an exhaustive and cunning plan.

“These actions will safeguard the Information and Communications Technology Supply Chain,” said Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. “These rules demonstrate our commitment to securing the digital economy, while also delivering on President Trump’s commitment to our digital infrastructure.”

Let’s take a look at them then. “The Secretary has chosen to adopt a case-by-case, fact-specific approach to determine which transactions must be prohibited, or which can be mitigated, according to the requirements in the Executive Order,” says the announcement. “The Secretary will use assessments developed by the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence pursuant to the Executive Order, among other things, to inform his evaluation of ICTS transactions.”

So Ross is saying that the new procedure, which took half a year to think up, amounts to “it depends.” There’s some further waffle saying his department will definitely give each case a lot of thought and give the affected companies a chance to plead mitigation. It will then publish its reasons for doing whatever it decides.

It’s hard to see what added value this announcement provides. If they weren’t previously operating on this basis then what were they doing? Probably nothing, and that’s what Ross seems to be saying: we’ve been sitting on our hands since May but now we’re going to start actually looking into this stuff. Well, at least they’ve had a good rest and must be raring to go now.

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