Government’s Huawei Decision Faces Parliamentary Inquiry

A Parliamentary committee is to scrutinise the Prime Minister’s plan to allow Huawei a limited role in the UK’s 5G networks, as the plan faced a challenge by Conservative rebels.

The government decided in late January to allow Huawei’s equipment, which has been present in UK networks since 2003, to be used in non-core parts of the UK’s 5G network that do not process sensitive data.

The US, which strongly opposes the use of Huawei in the UK’s networks, has said it plans to continue pressuring the government over the issue.

And late last week a group of Conservative rebels, led by Iain Duncan-Smith, tabled an amendment to legislation due before Parliament this week that would require Huawei’s equipment to be removed entirely from the UK’s mobile phone networks by the end of 2022.

Image credit: BT

Risk assessment

The amendment is unlikely to succeed, due to the Prime Minister’s majority in Parliament, but observers said it was an opportunity for rebels to show their strength.

Separately, on Friday, the Commons defence committee said it now plans to assess the security risks posed by Huawei equipment.

Committee chair Tobias Ellwood said the group would “not shy away” from asking “uncomfortable questions”.

A new sub-committee is to consider the security risks of equipment produced by “high-risk” vendors, including the impact that dealing with such vendors may have on the UK’s alliances with countries such as the US.

The US has warned that it may withhold intelligence from countries that deploy Huawei 5G equipment, considering that the information could be exposed to Chinese spying via secret Huawei backdoors.

‘Uncomfortable questions’

“Once introduced, 5G will fast become an unextractable, indispensable part of our infrastructure as a country,” said Ellwood, a former defence minister, in a statement.

“It is paramount that, as we negotiate this new technology, we ask the uncomfortable questions about the possibility of abuse by foreign parties.

“A decision of this magnitude must be made with eyes wide open and we will not shy away from tackling the public’s concerns head on.”

Huawei vice president Victor Zhang said the government and two parliamentary committees have already conducted “detailed assessments of the facts” before concluding Huawei’s equipment does not pose a security risk.

European 5G networks

“We have been operating in Britain for nearly 20 years, and played a vital role in the development and delivery of 3G and 4G for people across the UK,” Zhang said.

“Cyber security requires high and common standards across the telecoms industry, which Huawei has always supported.”

Abraham Liu, Huawei’s chief representative in the European Union, said on Friday he believes Huawei will be contracted to supply even core parts of some European countries’ 5G networks.

Speaking to reporters in Copenhagen, Liu said he was confident some European countries would choose Huawei’s equipment for parts of the network that process sensitive data because it offers “the best business value”, Reuters reported.

Germany and France have not yet taken an official stance on individual 5G equipment suppliers.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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