US Senators Demand Probe Into ZTE Work On Venezuela ID Card

Two US lawmakers have asked the country’s presidential administration to investigate China’s ZTE over its involvement in setting up a citizen database in Venezuela, and whether it violates the terms of a $1 billion (£780m) sanctions deal with US authorities earlier this year.

Venezuela’s controversial carnet de la patria, or “homeland card”, brings together a wide range of data on individual citizens, including birthday, employment and income, property owned, medical history, state benefits received, social media presence, political party membership and whether the person voted.

In principle, registration for the card, which made its debut in 2016, is not mandatory, but human rights and policy groups have accused (PDF) the Venezuelan government of using it as a tool of social control and to pressure voters to support the regime during elections.

ZTE helped the Venezuelan government set up the system, including the database in which the information is stored.

Government probe

The company’s involvement with the programme could be problematic, since the Shenzhen-based telecommunications equipment giant earlier this year agreed to a list of conditions in order to avoid a ban that would have cut it off from all parts manufactured in the US.

The ban, which ZTE paid $1bn to have lifted, was the result of previous alleged violations of US sanctions on North Korea and Iran.

On Wednesday, US senators Chris Van Hollen and Marco Rubio sent a letter to the US secretaries of state, treasury and commerce urging them to investigate whether ZTE’s work on the Venezuelan database involved working with individuals cited by US sanctions, the unlawful use of US components or the violation of democratic processes or human rights, according to Reuters.

Van Hollen and Rubio have both been prominent supporters of previous US actions against ZTE, which they and others, including the UK’s NCSC, have accused of presenting a national security risk.

New Zealand this week banned ZTE from its 5G networks on security grounds, following a similar move by Australia to ban both ZTE and China’s Huawei from such networks.

‘Economic war’

ZTE’s government projects in Venezuela have involved ventures with Compania Anonima Nacional Telefonos de Venezuela (Cantv), the state telecommunications company, according to Reuters.

The company’s president, Manuel Fernandez, has been named in US sanctions, along with Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro.

In their letter, Rubio and Van Hollen said that, among other concerns, ZTE may have violated US export controls by installing Dell data storage units in Cantv systems.

Maduro has in the past argued that the US sanctions against Venezuela are part of an “economic war”.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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