Senators raise concerns over iPhone-maker’s $12 billion US chip factory

By

Apple A14 processor
Senators want to be sure a Taiwanese semiconductor plant being built in Arizona won‘t be a security risk. The factory could someday make Apple processors.
CGI: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

A trio of Democratic Senators raised questions on Tuesday about what incentives the Trump administration offered Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co to build a new processor fabrication plant in the U.S. This factory could be used to produce chips for future iPhones.

The lawmakers want to be sure that TSMC isn’t getting unfair advantages over American chip makers. And that the plant won’t allow U.S. trade secrets to leak to China.

TSMC semiconductor US plant raises security questions

The three senators — Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Senator Reed (D-R.I.) — express support for making advanced microelectronics in the United States. But they’re not sure TSMC is the best choice for that. So they have questions for Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.

Senator Leahy wants to know about the tax breaks and other incentives the Taiwanese company was offered. “We need answers from the secretaries about what incentives or assurances have been given, and we need a plan to make sure that our domestic chip-making industry has the support and investment to compete,” said Leahy in a statement.

And Senator Schumer expressed concerns about too much dependence on foreign companies making the chips needed by the U.S. government. “The security risks posed by relying almost exclusively on foreign microelectronics suppliers are too great,” said Schumer. “We need a robust national strategy to ensure our domestic microelectronics industry can safely and securely supply our military, intelligence agencies, and other government needs.”

Senator Reed raised the specter of corporate espionage. “We must take steps to better secure sensitive technologies and equipment from adversaries like China, “ said Reed. “Improving domestic manufacturing capacity is an important step towards this goal, but it must be part of a comprehensive plan that ensures access to, and security of, these materials.”

More about the TSMC chip foundry

Word that Apple A-series chipmaker TSMC plans to build and run a new semiconductor fabrication plant in the U.S. surfaced on Friday. It’ll be built in Arizona, with the support of the U.S. federal government.

It will use TSMC’s 5-nanometer process to manufacture up to 20,000 semiconductor wafers per month. The iPhone 12 is widely expected to boast 5nm chips.

Construction of the facility will begin next year, but chip production won’t start until 2024.