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Senior ministers asked: So, are we going to ban Huawei or what?

All our Five Eyes mates have shown them the door

The British government has been asked to confirm that national telecommunications infrastructure is secure amid growing concerns about Chinese supplier Huawei.

In letters to the secretaries of state for defence, foreign affairs and digital, Norman Lamb, chairman of the Commons Science and Technology Committee, said it was crucial the UK is confident in the security of its telecommunications infrastructure.

He posed a series of questions, including how the government can assure the security of critical infrastructure when it is owned and run by private companies, and how it assesses and manages potential national security risks related to foreign suppliers.

The letters were prompted by nations in the Five Eyes alliance and the European Union appearing increasingly nervous about the possibility that Huawei kit is being co-opted by the Chinese government to pinch national secrets.

Bans have been enacted in the US, Australia and New Zealand, and France is rumoured to be considering one. Meanwhile, Canada arrested Huawei's CFO Meng Wangzhou, who is now facing extradition to the US, and the UK's Oxford university has reportedly scrapped all research grants from Huawei.

Those suspicious of Huawei and its links to the Chinese regime argue that these governments rarely enforce direct bans – but others question the lack of evidence, or even reports of evidence, for the allegations of spying. For its part, Huawei has repeatedly and strenuously denied all such allegations.

One example of such caution came from the president of Germany's cyber-risk assessment agency, who told Der Spiegel in December that there was "currently no reliable evidence" of a risk from Huawei.

However, a group set up in the UK to test the Chinese firm's kit, the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre, said in July last year that they had identified "shortcomings" in engineering processes that "exposed new risks in the UK telecommunication networks and long-term challenges in mitigation and management".

In December, there were reports that Huawei had agreed to spend $2bn on a security overhaul to address the issue – an investment that more sceptical readers might link to the fact the UK hasn't yet slapped a ban on the company's tech.

Lamb's questions to the officials – foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, digital secretary Jeremy Wright and defence secretary Gavin Williamson (all PDFs) – sought to establish the accuracy of the claims around the Chinese firm, and why the UK hasn't followed suit.

"What assessment has the government made of the UK allies' actions regarding foreign involvement in their communications networks, and why has the government not pursued similar actions in the UK?" he asked.

A further question asked what assessment the government has made about whether Chinese legislation could compel Chinese companies in the UK to assist with Chinese national intelligence work.

Lamb also asked about the government's response to the HCSEC's report, and whether it would expand this model to other foreign communications product or service suppliers.

A similar letter (PDF) was sent to the executive director of Huawei in the UK, asking how the firm responds to the bans taken by the Five Eyes nations and whether it could be compelled to assist Chinese authorities.

The Register asked Huawei to comment at 10am GMT but has yet to hear back from the PR function. ®

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