White House urges companies to team with feds to prevent Chinese tech theft

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The Biden White House wants businesses working on quantum tech breakthroughs to partner with federal security officials to thwart Chinese theft of American innovation.

National Quantum Coordination Office Director Charles Tahan told lawmakers Wednesday that the administration is advocating for companies working on emerging technology research and development to bring in the FBI and Department of Homeland Security before problems begin.

Quantum-based advances have fueled tech products including Global Position System navigation tools and Magnetic Resonance Imaging for medical care, according to the website of the federal government’s National Quantum Initiative.

To remain at the cutting edge of new tech, Mr. Tahan told the House Science Committee that the U.S. needs to move quickly to outcompete China and cannot afford to wait for federal agencies that review foreign transactions.

“We need to be very proactive with emerging technologies and get people educated, help them with their cybersecurity and then eventually have guidelines for physical security and so on,” Mr. Tahan said at a hearing. “But it’s really an early game here and that’s what we’ve been working on.”

Efforts to push the quantum sector closer together with federal security agencies are already underway, according to Celia Merzbacher, Quantum Economic Development Consortium executive director.

The consortium, created with federal funding, counts approximately 170 companies as members, according to Ms. Merzbacher, and its goal is to enable the growth of the quantum industry in the U.S.

“To help equip the members of QED-C, I have a very good relationship actually with U.S. law enforcement agencies and they come in and talk to these companies, especially the small ones,” Ms. Merzbacher told lawmakers. “They don’t have someone whose full-time job is doing export control so they need to have access to resources.”

While the federal government is working to secure quantum tech developments, lawmakers have concerns that China is fast on America’s heels and eager to swipe new innovation.

House Science Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, Oklahoma Republican, said China and Russia are heavily investing in operational quantum systems, with China spending more than $15 billion on quantum research and development.

“We cannot afford to have adversaries like the Chinese Communist Party use quantum technologies against us,” Mr. Lucas said at the hearing. “Using a quantum computer, the CCP could in moments crack current encryption codes, breaking down our digital defenses and exposing businesses and American citizens to gross violations of privacy.”

The federal government is relying on representatives from federal agencies running quantum science and technology programs to help determine the economic and security challenges facing quantum tech.

Mr. Tahan said the federal government counts on those representatives to develop best practices to protect American research as part of a committee. The committee includes personnel from the Departments of Commerce, Defense, Energy and Homeland Security, as well as the intelligence community and White House officials.

From his perch within the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Mr. Tahan helps oversee the administration’s quantum science and tech initiatives.

“There’s no perfect way to manage risk,” Mr. Tahan said. “And first and foremost our goal has to be to continue to move fast.”

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