Friday, January 15th, 2021

Sens. Tillis, Blackburn introduce bill to combat foreign threats to steal COVID-19 research

© Shutterstock

U.S. Sens. Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) introduced a bill that would give the president the authority to sanction foreign nations that try to steal American research on COVID-19.

The Defend COVID Research from Hackers Act authorizes sanctions that would specifically target a foreign person who directly or indirectly attempted to disrupt or hurt the United States through cybersecurity actions on networks. It would also give the president the authority to prohibit all property transactions by the foreign individual, including property coming into the United States or already in the United States, but excludes goods. It would also allow the president to prohibit individuals engaging in cyber-attacks from traveling to the United States or revoke the individual’s visa if they are in the country.

“Since work began to find a COVID-19 vaccine, hackers affiliated with foreign nations have worked to steal research from American companies and research institutions,” Tillis said. “These attempts to steal American intellectual property related to COVID-19 is a threat to our national security and economic health. Congress must give the President the tools to combat these bad actors, and this legislation will allow the Administration to identify and target those who work to steal research on a COVID-19 vaccine.”

The lawmakers said there had been multiple public notices about hackers affiliated with foreign nation states, including China, Iran, and Russia, attempting to steal American intellectual property in recent months. The hackers and foreign governments target COVID-19 related intellectual property, including treatments and vaccines, the lawmakers said.

“The integrity of our COVID-19 vaccine research is of the utmost importance to our national security,” Blackburn said. “Countries like China, Russia and Iran have proven themselves untrustworthy when it comes to collaborating on research efforts, and have opted instead to hack into American vaccine operations. It is essential that we take active steps to protect our public health from these bad actors.”

A companion bill was introduced in the House of Representatives by House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).