By Eric Lichtblau, New York Times
WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission has decided to make a European-owned company the clearinghouse for routing billions of cellphone calls and text messages across the United States, despite claims by critics that the plan poses national security risks, officials said Thursday.
The FCC’s approval, which has not been publicly announced, will give a New Jersey subsidiary of Ericsson, the Swedish technology giant, the obscure but critical job of operating a sprawling national system to track and route wireless calls and texts among hundreds of service providers.
The routing system began in the 1990s as a way for people to keep their cellphone numbers when they switched carriers, but intelligence and law enforcement agencies have come to rely on it to track and trace phone numbers in investigations.
The contract, worth as much as $1 billion over seven years, has been held since 1997 by a small Virginia company, Neustar. As part of an intense bidding process, the Ericsson subsidiary, Telcordia, told the FCC it could do the work much more cheaply than Neustar, and it earned the backing of many large carriers.
Some current and former intelligence officials have expressed concern that handing the contract to a foreign-owned company could leave the system more vulnerable to an attack.
Illustrating that point, evidence emerged several months ago that Telcordia had improperly used a small number of foreign nationals, including one Chinese citizen, to do computer coding for early work on the system after Telcordia was given preliminary approval for the job. Only “vetted U.S. citizens” were supposed to work on the project, and as a result, the FCC forced the firm to scrap the extensive computer work it had done and start …