Google, Facebook told to axe plan for undersea cable to Hong Kong

US security agencies called for project to be ditched because of concerns China would tap the underwater link and access Americans' private communications 

Google, Facebook told to axe plan for undersea cable to Hong Kong
A ship called the 'Cable Enterprise' lays an undersea cable for a wind park in the Baltic Sea near Sassnitz in Germany in August 2016. Plans for an underwater cable linking the US and Hong Kong have been ditched because of concerns that China might 'tap' the cable. Photo: Stefan Sauer/dpa via AFP.

(ATF) Google and Facebook have ditched plans for an underwater cable from Hong Kong to the United States, after the Trump administration said Beijing might use the link to collect information on Americans.

But the two tech conglomerates plan to submit a revised proposal, which includes the possibility of a tie-up with Taiwan or China, as envisaged in the application withdrawn last Thursday. They may also potentially link with the Philippines, cnBeta reported.

The new application no longer includes Hong Kong-based Pacific Optical Data Communications Co Ltd, which was a partner in the original plan.

The change was a casualty of the Sino-US trade war, and concern that China would "tap" the cable.

The two companies proposed the Pacific Optical Cable Network Project in 2017, listing all three trans-Pacific destinations.

But US security agencies and the Department of Justice appealed on June 17 to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to curtail the project because of fears China would access Americans' private communications. 

The agencies recommended that the FCC approve an undersea link between the US and Taiwan, China and the Philippines. Google won a partial operating authorisation in April for the cable to Taiwan for a period of six months.

"We continue to obtain cable landing permits for our submarine cables through established channels," a Google spokesperson for Alphabet Inc. 

A Google representative said that the original application "has been withdrawn, and the US revision of the application has been submitted."

FCC commissioner Geoffrey Starks pointed out in a tweet that the application was withdrawn after US officials raised national security concerns. "I share these concerns and will continue to speak out. @FCC must ensure that our telecommunications traffic is safe."

A Facebook representative responded to the inquiry and guided media reporters to refer to the project's filing documents with the FCC.