State's Lang Tells Senators Priorities Are Countering China, Touting Trusted Vendors
President Joe Biden’s nominee for U.S. coordinator of international communications and information policy, drew a favorable response from Senate Foreign Relations Committee Democrats during a truncated Thursday confirmation hearing. Steve Lang emphasized the need for U.S. “solidarity with like-minded partners around the world” on communications and cybersecurity issues “to better face the existential challenge from” China and other “countries that don't share our democratic values.” Lang is currently deputy assistant secretary of state-international information and communications policy.
The Chinese government’s “stated ambitions for leadership in the digital economy are clear,” so “we must work together with those who share our rights-respecting approach to ensure that we lead the development and deployment of advanced technologies,” Lang said. “We and our partners must lead and set standards defending norms and building interoperable regulatory frameworks, not only because it is critical to our national security and economic prosperity, but also to make sure that technology enables free expression and other basic rights. We cannot allow these technologies to become tools to monitor citizens, censor dissent and measure loyalty.”
Lang promised, if confirmed, to “accelerate” the State Department’s “work to promote trusted supply and digital infrastructure in markets around the world. We will encourage telecom operators to choose trusted vendors when building out 5G networks and will further expand that work to include other technologies like cloud services, data centers, subsea cables, and satellite networks.” Lang has drawn increased visibility since taking over last year from Democratic FCC Commissioner Anna Gomez as head of the U.S. delegation to the World Radiocommunication Conference in Dubai after Gomez’s September confirmation (see 2309120069).
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Ben Cardin, D-Md., urged Lang to “continue to build and strengthen our cybersecurity policies” and “commit to making human rights and the protection of democratic institutions one of your priorities.” Ranking member Jim Risch, R-Idaho, praised Lang’s “years of experience working on cyberspace at” State, but criticized the department for being “behind on these issues.” Risch left the hearing early to join a Republican caucus meeting on the national security supplemental appropriations measure (see 2402070059), but said he hoped to learn more about how State “can advance U.S. leadership on digital issues and limit reliance on Chinese-made equipment in 5G networks worldwide.”
Cardin pressed Lang on State’s priorities for its $500 million International Technology, Security and Innovation Fund, which Congress created as part of the 2022 Chips and Science Act. State's $15 million commitment for undersea cables over the next three years “in the Pacific … to help facilitate connections that wouldn't otherwise be made by private companies” is “a good example of the kind of work that we'd like to expand to help build out trusted infrastructure for countries that are looking to make the difficult choice between trusted and untrusted suppliers,” Lang said.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., questioned Lang and Dafna Hochman Rand, Biden's nominee for assistant secretary of state-democracy, human rights and labor, about how State should make its Global Engagement Center more “effective” in countering disinformation campaigns. Lang noted the Cyberspace and Digital Policy Bureau “has a coordinator for digital freedom” leading State’s “efforts on misinformation and disinformation.” State has also “prioritized this” by “working through the OECD misinformation and disinformation hub,” which “has been one of the key channels that we have tried to advance our interests on this critical issue,” he said.
State’s Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Bureau is trying to make a dent in this problem, including by working on internet freedom, said Rand, a Georgetown University fellow in strategic studies. “We are finding around the world that blocking the internet is a tool of the autocrats,” who subsequently flood “the zone with disinformation … as a way to shore up authoritarians.” That “combination of censorship and then misinformation … is very dangerous,” she said: “If confirmed, I'm going to take a look at all the foreign assistance programs we have” to see how they can be used to counter disinformation. Rand also noted Biden’s October executive order directing federal agencies to establish “rigorous” standards for how and when companies can deploy AI systems (see 2310300056) and suggested working with technical experts involved in creating those policies to “see what we can do” via foreign assistance programs.
Shaheen later asked Lang to commit to “help assist in working on” communications challenges “small rural communities” in New Hampshire and other areas of the U.S.-Canadian border face “because of the licensing process that requires approval by both the FCC” and Canadian government to “change where towers go and where radio communications can happen.” Lang said the FCC “has the lead in managing those issues” for the U.S. government, but “my team works hand in hand with the FCC all the time in their engagements with international partners." He vowed "to help facilitate those efforts to resolve those issues.”