US officials can’t decide if Honor smartphones are a national security threat

Late last year, Chinese electronics manufacturer Huawei sold its budget mobile brand Honor to “ensure” it would survive the sanctions the US had issued against its own business. The move allowed the brand to work with firms like Qualcomm and Intel to source chips and other critical components for its phones, laptops and wearables. But now Honor could be in trouble as well.

According to The Washington Post, officials at four federal agencies voted last week whether to place the company on the Commerce Department’s entity list. Landing there would prevent Honor from working with US companies. The Post reports the vote went evenly down the middle. Officials from the Pentagon and Energy Department were reportedly in favor of putting the company on the list, while their counterparts at the Commerce Department and State Department were not.

With the deadlock, it’s now up to the political appointees at those agencies to decide what to do. If they can’t make a decision, the issue could eventually make its way to the desk of President Joe Biden.

The Commerce Department declined to comment on the vote when The Post reached out to the agency about it. Instead, it spoke to the subject of the entity list more broadly, noting it continually reviews the risk of a nominated company illegally sharing US technology. “We remain committed to using a full range of tools, including . . . export controls, to deter efforts by the [People’s Republic of China] and other countries … that seek to leverage technology in ways that risk harming US national security and foreign policy interests,” Brittany Caplin, a spokesperson the agency, told the outlet.

Ultimately, those making the case that Honor should land on the entity list may have difficulty convincing their counterparts that the company is a national security threat to the US. Unlike its one-time parent, Honor doesn’t sell telecommunications equipment to carriers. That means it’s not involved in the 5G network buildouts that were ostensibly at the center of the decision to place Huawei there. What’s more, its products aren’t even available in the US.

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