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Boeing could produce Loyal Wingman fighter-like drone by middle of decade: executive

FILE PHOTO: The Boeing logo is displayed on a screen, at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., August 7, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Boeing Co sees mass production of its unmanned, fighter-like jet developed in Australia likely happening by the middle of the decade, an executive said on Tuesday, as it rolled out the first of three prototypes.

“We are expecting middle of the decade, maybe a bit earlier that this will be in production,” Shane Arnott, the programme director of Boeing’s Airpower Teaming System, told reporters.

He said up to 16 of the Loyal Wingman drones could be teamed with a manned aircraft for missions.

Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Air Vice-Marshal Catherine Roberts said the Loyal Wingman’s role could include carrying weapons in combat.

The Australian government has invested A$40 million ($25.71 million) in development of the product, which Roberts said had also attracted interest from the United States and United Kingdom as potential future customers.

Reporting by Jamie Freed; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman

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WeWork co-founder Neumann sues SoftBank over failed tender offer

FILE PHOTO: Adam Neumann, chief executive officer of U.S. co-working firm WeWork, speaks during a signing ceremony in Shanghai, China April 12, 2018. Picture taken April 12, 2018. Jackal Pan via REUTERS/File Photo

(Reuters) – WeWork co-founder Adam Neumann filed a lawsuit against Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp (9984.T) and its Vision Fund on Monday for terminating a $3 billion tender offer to the office-sharing startup’s shareholders.

The tender offer was part of a $9.6 billion rescue financing package that SoftBank agreed with WeWork in October and gave it control of the company. Since then, WeWork’s occupancy rates have plummeted amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In April, SoftBank said it would not press ahead with the tender offer because several pre-conditions had not been met, frustrating WeWork’s minority shareholders, who were expecting a payout. The investors included Adam Neumann.

“The abuses committed by (SoftBank) and SBVF (SoftBank Vision Fund) are so brazen that they have prompted legal action by a special committee of WeWork’s board,” the lawsuit filed in a Delaware Court said.

An independent special committee, comprised of Bruce Dunlevie, who is a general partner at WeWork shareholder Benchmark Capital, and Lew Frankfort, former CEO of luxury handbag maker Coach, had also filed a lawsuit, calling SoftBank’s decision to terminate the tender offer wrongful.

SoftBank’s lawyers had questioned the special committee’s right to represent minority shareholders, an assertion the committee rejected last month.

“In real time, SBG (SoftBank) and SBVF (SoftBank Vision Fund) are abusing their control of WeWork in an effort to stop the special committee’s meritorious lawsuit from being heard,” the lawsuit said.

Meanwhile, SoftBank’s Chief Legal Officer Rob Townsend called Neumann’s claims “meritless”. Under the terms of the agreement, he said, SoftBank had “no obligation” to complete the tender offer in which Neumann – the biggest beneficiary – sought to sell nearly $1 billion in stock.

Reporting by Joshua Franklin in New York and Bharath Manjesh in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur

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Prague Airport says thwarted several cyber attacks; hospitals also targeted

PRAGUE (Reuters) – Prague Airport and a regional Czech hospital said on Saturday they had thwarted cyber attacks on their IT networks, reinforcing warnings by the national cyber security watchdog of likely attempts to harm the country’s infrastructure.

“Attempted attacks on web pages of the airport were detected in preparatory phases,” the airport’s spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. “That prevented their spreading and all further phases that could have followed and potentially harm the company.”

A regional hospital in the western Czech city of Karlovy Vary was attacked twice overnight on Saturday and foiled the attempts, which however were not exceptional, a spokesman said.

Several other hospitals in the Czech Republic reported attempted attacks on their computer systems on Friday, and said the attacks were successfully blocked.

The Czech cyber-security watchdog NUKIB said on Thursday that it expected attacks in the coming days. The malware used in the attacks is designed to damage or destroy victims’ computers, according to researchers.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Friday the United States was concerned by the threat of a cyber attack against the Czech Republic’s healthcare sector, adding that anybody engaged in such activity should “expect consequences.” [L1N2C600Y]

A Czech official speaking on condition of anonymity said it was not proven who was responsible for the activity the cyber-security watchdog had identified but it was thought to be the work of a “serious and advanced adversary.”

Czech Foreign Minister Tomas Petricek said on Saturday the attacks were “extremely ruthless” during the coronavirus pandemic.

“I do hope that our experts will find out who is interested in Czech Republic losing to this disease,” he said on Twitter.

Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Christina Fincher

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European coronavirus app platform gains traction with governments

BERLIN (Reuters) – A European technology platform to support smartphone apps that can help trace people at risk of infection by the new coronavirus is gaining support from governments, one of its prime movers said on Friday.

Seven countries have either formally supported the Pan-European Privacy Preserving Proximity Tracing (PEPP-PT https://www.pepp-pt.org) initiative or tasked one of its members with developing a national app, German tech entrepreneur Chris Boos told Reuters.

PEPP-PT has emerged as a leading proponent of the use of Bluetooth short-range communications between personal devices as a proxy for measuring the risk that a person infected with coronavirus can pass it on.

“A lot of larger countries have dedicated their app teams to build on top of what we’re supplying,” Boos, a co-initiator of PEPP-PT and founder of business automation startup Arago, said in an interview.

He listed Austria, Germany, France, Italy, Malta, Spain and Switzerland, adding that another 40 countries had registered and were in the process of being brought onboard.

More than 200 scientists and technologists are collaborating on PEPP-PT, conceived as the backbone for national apps that would comply with Europe’s strict privacy rules and be able to “talk” to each other across borders.

Technologists are rushing to devise digital methods to fight a disease that has infected more than 2 million people worldwide, 150,000 of whom have died.

Automating the assessment of who is at risk and telling them to see a doctor, get tested or self isolate, is seen by advocates as a way to speed up a painstaking task that typically entails phone calls and door knocks.

DATA PRIVACY

The approach is based on work here by researchers at Oxford University’s Big Data Institute who argue that if 60% of a population uses such an app that would be enough to suppress the pandemic.

This would be tough to reach if apps are voluntary. But even with lower takeup one infection can be prevented by every 1 or 2 people using an app, Oxford’s Christophe Fraser told a separate video briefing.

A schism has however opened up among technologists around issues of data privacy, with some favouring decentralized approaches that do not host sensitive data on a main server over more centralized systems.

Boos said PEPP-PT could work in either setting. “Both models have their pros and cons … A country has to pick which system it needs.”

Italy has backed a contact tracing app developed by Milan startup Bending Spoons, a member of PEPP-PT, while Germany plans to roll out an app under development by the Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute, another participant.

In France, the INRIA digital research institute is also working to develop an app based on PEPP-PT. “We are fully committed to make this pan-European initiative a success,” said INRIA head Bruno Sportisse.

FILE PHOTO: People wearing protective face masks use a smartphone on a street in Kiev, Ukraine, March 17, 2020. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/File Photo

PEPP-PT has faced criticism from supporters of a decentralized protocol called DP-3T here with early backer Marcel Salathe of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne publicly dissociating himself from it on Friday.

Boos said DP-3T still had a role to play. He also responded to criticism that PEPP-PT was too secretive, promising to publish its documentation for public review on Friday.

Friday’s briefing on video conferencing app Zoom was hacked by someone who posted racist comments. The case of so-called Zoom-bombing, Boos conceded, was a reminder of the need to make sure the PEPP-PT platform safe and secure.

Reporting by Douglas Busvine; Editing by David Holmes

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Hacking against corporations surges as workers take computers home

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Hacking activity against corporations in the United States and other countries more than doubled by some measures last month as digital thieves took advantage of security weakened by pandemic work-from-home policies, researchers said.

FILE PHOTO: A man works from home amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Shoreline, Washington, U.S., March 23, 2020. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo

Corporate security teams have a harder time protecting data when it is dispersed on home computers with widely varying setups and on company machines connecting remotely, experts said.

Even those remote workers using virtual private networks (VPNs), which establish secure tunnels for digital traffic, are adding to the problem, officials and researchers said.

Software and security company VMware Carbon Black said this week that ransomware attacks it monitored jumped 148% in March from the previous month, as governments worldwide curbed movement to slow the novel coronavirus, which has killed more than 130,000.

“There is a digitally historic event occurring in the background of this pandemic, and that is there is a cybercrime pandemic that is occurring,” said VMware cybersecurity strategist Tom Kellermann.

“It’s just easier, frankly, to hack a remote user than it is someone sitting inside their corporate environment. VPNs are not bullet-proof, they’re not the be-all, end-all.”

Using data from U.S.-based Team Cymru, which has sensors with access to millions of networks, researchers at Finland’s Arctic Security found that the number of networks experiencing malicious activity was more than double in March in the United States and many European countries compared with January, soon after the virus was first reported in China.

The biggest jump in volume came as computers responded to scans when they should not have. Such scans often look for vulnerable software that would enable deeper attacks.

The researchers plan to release their country-by-country findings next week.

Rules for safe communication, such as barring connections to disreputable web addresses, tend to be enforced less when users take computers home, said analyst Lari Huttunen at Arctic.

That means previously safe networks can become exposed. In many cases, corporate firewalls and security policies had protected machines that had been infected by viruses or targeted malware, he said. Outside of the office, that protection can fall off sharply, allowing the infected machines to communicate again with the original hackers.

That has been exacerbated because the sharp increase in VPN volume led some stressed technology departments to permit less rigorous security policies.

“Everybody is trying to keep these connections up, and security controls or filtering are not keeping up at these levels,” Huttunen said.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) cybersecurity agency agreed this week that VPNs bring with them a host of new problems.

“As organizations use VPNs for telework, more vulnerabilities are being found and targeted by malicious cyber actors,” wrote DHS’ Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

The agency said it is harder to keep VPNs updated with security fixes because they are used at all hours, instead of on a schedule that allows for routine installations during daily boot-ups or shutdowns.

Even vigilant home users may have problems with VPNs. The DHS agency on Thursday said some hackers who broke into VPNs provided by San Jose-based Pulse Secure before patches were available a year ago had used other programs to maintain that access.

Other security experts said financially motivated hackers were using pandemic fears as bait and retooling existing malicious programs such as ransomware, which encrypts a target’s data and demands payment for its release.

(This story corrects spelling of name of cybersecurity expert Tom Kellermann in paragraph 5, VMware in paragraphs 4 and 5.)

Reporting by Joseph Menn in San Franciso and Raphael Satter in Washington; Editing by Peter Henderson and Christopher Cushing

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Exclusive: Chinese-backed owners commit to British HQ for Imagination Tech

LONDON (Reuters) – The Chinese-backed owners of Imagination Technologies told the British government on Friday the chip designer would remain headquartered in the United Kingdom and they would consult over any board changes.

FILE PHOTO: The headquarters of technology company Imagination Technologies is seen on the outskirts of London, Britain, June 22, 2017. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

Confirming an earlier Reuters source-based report, private equity firm Canyon Bridge, which is backed by Chinese state-owned China Reform holdings, said it had a constructive meeting with the British government.

British lawmakers recently became concerned that Imagination Technologies, which supplies intellectual property in areas including graphics and video processing to groups like Apple (AAPL.O), could end up being moved out of the United Kingdom.

Canyon Bridge representatives had a conference call with Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Oliver Dowden on Friday.

“Imagination Technologies and its owners Canyon Bridge had a constructive meeting,” a spokesman for Canyon Bridge and Imagination Technologies said in an emailed statement.

“We discussed our ongoing commitment to Imagination Technologies as a UK-headquartered business and have agreed to maintain dialogue with the Secretary of State as we further build out our senior management team,” the spokesman said.

A British government source also confirmed the meeting had taken place.

“The government will continue to monitor the situation closely and take the appropriate steps as necessary to make sure it protects UK interests,” the source said.

Once a jewel in Britain’s technological crown, Imagination was bought by Canyon Bridge in 2017.

British lawmakers became concerned that the company could end up being moved out of the United Kingdom when Canyon Bridge tried to appoint its board members, though the crucial board meeting earlier this month was cancelled at the request of the government.

A source with knowledge of the talks who spoke on condition of anonymity said Canyon committed to the majority of Imagination Technologies’ staff remaining in the United Kingdom and to continue investment in research and development and intellectual property development.

“They want to maintain their commitment to the UK economy,” said the source.

Spokesmen for the British government declined immediate comment.

British lawmaker David Davis told Reuters on Tuesday that the government should seek every mechanism to prevent the removal of the technology base of Imagination Technologies to China, including seeking a Western buyer for the company.

Davis said Imagination was a strategic asset and the government should make it absolutely plain that it does not view the export of such important British technology with equanimity.

The sale of Imagination Technologies, founded in 1985, was approved by the government of then-Prime Minister Theresa May on the basis that Canyon Bridge would be subject to U.S. law.

Canyon Bridge was originally incorporated in the United States but has since moved to the Cayman Islands, a spokesman said.

The sale of Imagination in 2017 came after its biggest customer Apple said it would develop more of its own graphics technology, sending the British company’s shares down 70%.

British government officials met Canyon Bridge during the 2017 takeover talks, and it pledged to invest in Imagination’s research and development capabilities in Britain when the deal was approved in November of that year.

Apple continued to use Imagination’s technology, and Imagination announced a new multi-year, multi-use license agreement with the iPhone maker in January.

Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge and Paul Sandle; editing by David Evans and Susan Fenton

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Google to waive ad serving fees for news publishers amid virus crisis

FILE PHOTO: File photo of a 3D printed Google logo in illustration taken April 12, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

(Reuters) – Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Google said on Friday it will waive for the next five months the small fee it charges news publishers to decide which ads to show on their online properties.

News publishers, especially the print media, have struggled as many advertisers pulled their marketing budgets to rein in costs because of economic uncertainty related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Jason Kint, chief executive of media industry trade association Digital Content Next, said that any move to help the news publishing industry is appreciated.

“But we would be foolish to believe this changes any other well-founded concerns around Google’s dominance over the digital ad business,” Kint said.

Google Ad Manager, the service for which fees are being waived, is the most-used ad serving tool among news publishers, in part because of its low cost of pennies per every thousand ads shown to users. For smaller operations, it is free.

The larger expense for publishers are deals with Google and other technology partners that help them auction off ad slots.

Google said it is still working on other ways to provide financial support to news organizations. (bit.ly/2RMAMH9)

In March, Facebook Inc (FB.O) pledged here $100 million in financing and advertising spending to support news organizations reeling from pressure due to the pandemic.

Reporting by Ayanti Bera in Bengaluru and Paresh Dave in Oakland, California; Editing by Shailesh Kuber and Will Dunham

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Dutch telecommunications towers damaged by 5G protestors: Telegraaf

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Several Dutch cellular broadcasting towers have been damaged by arson or sabotage in the past week by opponents of a rollout of a new 5G telecommunications network, newspaper De Telegraaf reported on Saturday.

The paper said there have been 4 such incidents in the past week, and cited the director of an industry group that oversees placement of cell towers in the country, The Monet Foundation.

The Telegraaf reported that arsonists had left an anti-5G slogan spray-painted at the scene of one attack.

A range of groups in the Netherlands have been opposed to the advent of 5G for some time, mostly over concerns that radiowaves could damage human health. Others fear the technology could infringe privacy.

In a statement on its website, the Dutch government’s Security and Counter-Terrorism (NCTV) said it had registered “various incidents” around broadcasting masts in the past week, including arson and sabotage, and that opposition to the 5G rollout is a possible cause.

“This is a concerning development,” it said. “Disruption of broadcasting masts…can have consequences for the coverage of the telecommunications network and reachability of emergency services.”

It noted that similar attacks have been occurring recently in Britain.

British ministers last week dismissed a theory that linked 5G masts to the spread of the novel coronavirus as dangerous “fake news” and completely false.

Major telecommunications providers in the Netherlands are in a testing phase and have not yet begun any nationwide rollout of 5G pending a spectrum auction due to conclude in June.

Reporting by Toby Sterling; Editing by Toby Chopra

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Apple, Google plan software to slow virus, joining global debate on tracking

(Reuters) – Apple Inc (AAPL.O) and Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Google said on Friday that they will work together to create contact tracing technology that aims to slow the spread of the coronavirus by allowing users to opt into logging other phones they have been near.

FILE PHOTO: The Apple Inc. logo is seen hanging at the entrance to the Apple store on 5th Avenue in Manhattan, New York, U.S., October 16, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo

The rare collaboration between the two Silicon Valley companies, whose operating systems power 99% of the world’s smartphones, could accelerate usage of apps that aim to get potentially infected individuals into testing or quarantine more quickly and reliably than existing systems in much of the world. Such tracing will play a vital role in managing the virus once lockdown orders end, health experts say.

The planned technology also throws the weight of the tech leaders into a global conflict between privacy advocates who favor a decentralized system to trace contacts and governments in Europe and Asia pushing centralized approaches that have technical weaknesses and potentially let governments know with whom people associate.

“With Apple and Google, you get all the public health functions you need with a decentralized and privacy-friendly app,” said Michael Veale, University College London legal lecturer involved in European contact tracing system DP3T. Centralized solutions such as those proposed in Britain and France would “no longer work” under the new technology, he said.

To be effective, the Silicon Valley system would require millions of people to opt in the system, trusting the technology companies’ safeguards, as well as smooth oversight by public health systems.

The companies said they started developing the technology two weeks ago to streamline technical differences between Apple’s iPhones and Google’s Android that had stymied the interoperation of some existing contact tracing apps.

Under the plan, users’ phones with the technology will emit unique Bluetooth signals. Phones within about six feet can record anonymous information about encounters.

People who test positive for the virus can opt to send an encrypted list of phones they came near to Apple and Google, which will trigger alerts to potentially exposed users to seek more information. Public health authorities would need to sign off that an individual has tested positive before they can send on the data.

The logs will be scrambled to keep infected individuals’ data anonymous, even to Apple, Google and contact tracing app makers, the companies said. Apple and Google said their contact tracing system will not track GPS location.

“To their credit, Apple and Google have announced an approach that appears to mitigate the worst privacy and centralization risks,” said Jennifer Granick, surveillance and cybersecurity counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union.

Apple and Google plan to release software tools in mid-May to contact tracing apps that they and public health authorities approve. Apps including Private Kit and CoEpi, which had contacted Apple and Google for help a month ago, said the new tools would enable them to drop potentially unreliable workarounds.

Apps will be able to focus on developing a simple interface for users and healthcare workers, with Apple and Google handling Bluetooth and privacy issues, said Dana Lewis, a lead developer of contact tracing app CoEpi.

However, Apple and Google plan to release software updates in the coming months so that users do not need a separate app to log nearby phones.

Google said the tools and updates would not be available where its services are blocked, such as in China or on unofficial Android devices. Apple will distribute the technology as an update to its iPhone operating system.

A median of 76% of people in United States and other advanced economies have smartphones, according to a Pew Research Center study last year, compared with a median of 45% in emerging economies.

Governments worldwide have been scrambling to adopt software meant to improve the normally labor-intensive process of contact tracing, in which health officials go to recent contacts of an infected person and ask them to self-quarantine or get tested.

“It’s very interesting, but a lot of people worry about it in terms of a person’s freedom. We’re going to take a look at that, a very strong look at that,” U.S. President Donald Trump said at a press briefing when asked about Apple and Google’s efforts.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Google is seen in Davos, Switzerland Januar 20, 2020. Picture taken January 20, 2020. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann/File Photo

Health experts have credited extensive testing and contact tracing with slowing the spread of the virus in nations such as South Korea, but limited testing has held back contact tracing in the United States.

For instance, New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene told Reuters on Friday that tracing will not be helpful until the virus is controlled, with apps potentially proving expedient when someone has crossed paths with many people.

“This isn’t a substitute for testing – you need to know who has it – but it produces actionable results so people can act responsibly, self-isolate and reduce anxiety in the community as a whole,” said Al Gidari, a Stanford University law school lecturer and previously long-time external counsel to Google.

Reporting by Stephen Nellis and Paresh Dave in San Francisco and Douglas Busvine in Berlin; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Daniel Wallis

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U.S. agencies back revoking ability of China Telecom to operate in U.S.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department and other federal agencies on Thursday called on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to revoke China Telecom (Americas) Corp’s (0728.HK) authorization to provide international telecommunications services to and from the United States.

China Telecom is the U.S. subsidiary of a People’s Republic of China (PRC) state-owned telecommunications company. Last year, two U.S. senators asked the FCC to review approvals of China Telecom and China Unicom (0762.HK) to operate in the United States.

The FCC last May voted unanimously to deny another state-owned Chinese telecommunications company, China Mobile Ltd (0941.HK), the right to provide services in the United States, citing risks that the Chinese government could use the approval to conduct espionage against the U.S. government, It said then that it was “looking” at the licenses of China Telecom and China Unicom.

China Telecom (Americas) rejected the allegations and said it has “been extremely cooperative and transparent with regulators.”

“In many instances, we have gone beyond what has been requested to demonstrate how our business operates and serves our customers following the highest international standards,” the company said in a statement. “We look forward to sharing additional details to support our position and addressing any concerns.”

China’s foreign ministry said on Friday that Beijing is “firmly opposed” to any action by the United States against China Telecom.

“We urge the United States to respect market economy principles, to cease its mistaken practices of generalizing national security and politicizing economic issues, and to cease unjustifiable oppression of Chinese companies,” Foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters during a daily briefing.

China’s telecommunications networks and companies have come under heightened scrutiny by U.S. agencies. An FCC spokeswoman said the agency “has been looking at this issue. We welcome the input of the executive branch agencies and will review it carefully.”

The agencies, including Homeland Security, Defense, State, Commerce, and the United States Trade Representative, cited “substantial and unacceptable national security and law enforcement risks associated with China Telecom’s operations.”

Those included concerns that China Telecom could be controlled or influenced by China’s government. The agencies also said China Telecom’s U.S. operations might allow Chinese government entities “to engage in malicious cyber activity enabling economic espionage and disruption and misrouting of U.S. communications.”

In September, U.S. Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer and Senator Tom Cotton, a Republican, raised concerns that China Telecom and China Unicom “have access to our telephone lines, fiber optic cables, cellular networks and satellites in ways that could give it (China) the ability to target the content of communications of Americans or their businesses and the U.S. government.”

FILE PHOTO: A sign of 5G is pictured at the booth of China Telecom during an internet expo at the fifth World Internet Conference (WIC) in Wuzhen, Zhejiang province, China, November 7, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Lee

On Wednesday, the FCC agreed to allow Alphabet Inc unit Google (GOOGL.O) to use part of an U.S.-Asia undersea telecommunications cable.

Google agreed to operate only a portion of the 8,000-mile Pacific Light Cable Network System between the United States and Taiwan, but not Hong Kong. Google and Facebook Inc (FB.O) helped pay for construction of the now completed telecommunications link but U.S. regulators have blocked its use.

On Wednesday, the Justice Department said U.S. agencies believe “there is a significant risk that the grant of a direct cable connection between the United States and Hong Kong would seriously jeopardize the national security and law enforcement interests of the United States.”

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Leslie Adler and David Gregorio

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