After cyber attacks and more, PA could protect state assets from China, unfriendly countries

25 January 2024- Following several high-profile events across the country, including the recent hacking of the Aliquippa Municipal Authority, Pennsylvania House Republicans are planning to introduce a package of bills that would protect critical state assets from unfriendly foreign entities, including China.

While the federal government will continue to take the lead on national defense strategy, this legislative package identifies key areas where the Commonwealth can provide coverage for Commonwealth assets and areas not covered by federal jurisdiction.

Following what the U.S. military classified as a “security threat” when a Chinese-linked security firm purchased 370 acres of farmland near a military instillation in North Dakota , Rep. Barb Gleim (R-Cumberland) plans to introduce legislation that would further protect agricultural land in Pennsylvania by restricting the ability of “countries of concern” as designated by the federal government (i.e. China, Russia, Belarus, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, Syria, and other countries that do not permit Americans to purchase farmland in their country) to purchase agricultural land in Pennsylvania.

The proposal would further expand a current law restriction to government officials of countries of concern, political parties and members of political parties of countries of concern, business entities organized under the laws of countries of concern, individuals domiciled in a country of concern and not a lawful citizen or permanent resident of the United States, and business entities with a controlling interest owned by foreign principals.

“If the federal government has designated a foreign country as one of concern, we should not be jeopardizing our national security by allowing leaders, political parties, or associated businesses from those countries to purchase large swaths of agricultural land, especially when that land may be near sensitive areas. The amount of Pennsylvania agricultural land purchased and owned by foreign entities significantly increased last year and that is especially concerning given recent events in North Dakota and that is particularly true for my district where a sensitive national defense asset—the Army War College—is located near agricultural land,” Gleim said.

“Allowing countries of foreign concern and related political parties and business entities to purchase agricultural land in Pennsylvania creates a disadvantage for American farmers who may not have reciprocal rights in these foreign countries,” Gleim added. “This legislation is in line with federal definitions and increases our security while putting Pennsylvania farmers on a level playing field.”

In the wake of the hacking of the Aliquippa Municipal Authority, forthcoming legislation by Rep. Stephenie Scialabba (R-Butler) would establish the Pennsylvania Cyber Security Task Force, which would be composed of staff from the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, the Pennsylvania State Police, the Public Utility Commission and other critical stakeholders that would assist institutions and facilities with cyber security needs and require the implementation of security safeguards.

“While there are valid concerns over the security of the physical realm, we also must be mindful of the cyber realm, which can be even more expansive than our geographical boundaries and has a wealth of related information and security concerns and implications,” Scialabba said.

“A breach of state or local government cyber security can affect the most basic parts of everyday life, from our drinking water to the safe storage of sensitive information at state agencies. It is imperative in an age of growing cyber threats that we empower a state-level team to identify potential threats and work with utilities, schools and local governments to proactively implement safeguards against cyber intrusions.”

Rep. Tim Bonner (R-Mercer/Butler) is also planning to introduce legislation as part of this package that would direct the Joint State Government Commission to review possible policies the Commonwealth can establish to review foreign purchases of infrastructure assets and adjacent land in the Commonwealth for possible security implications to critical infrastructure.

“I am pleased to join with Rep. Gleim and Rep. Scialabba in sponsoring legislation to protect our farmlands, critical infrastructure and utility systems from ownership by foreign interests hostile to the United States, as well as to identify and combat cyber threats to our institutions and facilities emanating from foreign entities through the establishment of a cyber security task force,” Bonner said. “I look forward to working with my colleagues on this critically important legislation to limit the ability of hostile nations to adversely affect our national and state security.”

You can view a copy of the co-sponsorship memo here.