Irish government seeks power to bar 'high risk vendors' from telecoms networks

Amendment to bill doesn’t name Chinese companies ... but is eerily similar to regs that target Huawei and ZTE

The Irish government has amended its Communications Regulations Bill 2022 with clauses that will allow it to blacklist networking equipment vendors on national security grounds.

The bill – a first draft of which appeared in late September before last week's amendments appeared – aims to upgrade regulations covering Ireland's telecommunications. Enhanced consumer protection and bolstering national authorities' enforcement abilities are important aims.

The amendment [PDF] does not call out Huawei specifically, however it does restrict equipment from "high-risk vendors" that are "subjected to interference by a third country" from being used in Ireland's telecom infrastructure.

The amendment permits the minister for the environment, climate and communications to determine if a vendor should be considered high-risk.

The minister can also assess if a strong link exists between the vendor and a non EU, EEA state, Swiss or UK government that may engage in offensive cybersecurity or may not have data protection and democratic or legislative oversight.

Furthermore, it puts the vendor's business practices and source of finances up for scrutiny.

The amendment then gives the minister power to require replacements in existing systems – as has happened in the US, where a rip-and-replace program has run up bills of $3 billion to remove kit from Huawei and ZTE.

Eir, one of Ireland's top three telcos, uses Huawei products, as does lesser known but still popular broadband provider SIRO.

The amendments bring Ireland into line with laws in the EU – specifically January 2020's EU 5G security toolbox [PDF].

The document requires that all member states should ensure they have measures in place to deal with present and future risks. In particular, the document instructs that relevant authorities should assess the risk of third-party suppliers – especially if those suppliers could be subject to interference from a non-EU country. The potential for such influence is rated "one of the key aspects in the assessment of non-technical vulnerabilities."

Huawei has repeatedly disputed claims that it poses any threat. The company could potentially take Ireland to court to appeal the matter, like it has done in the past to Sweden.

In addition to being costly, compliance with the bans has been questioned. In the US, a Washington policy research group estimated thousands of public officials are buying prohibited tech despite government efforts.

But the overall affect on Huawei has been brutal. The company reported a 28.5 percent year-on-year revenue plunge last March. In October, the private company declined to disclose the net profit of the overall group, but said it generated CNY445.8 billion ($6.1 billion) in revenue for the first nine months of calendar 2022.

Since the Trump-era bans began in 2019, the company has sold both its low-end handset Honor brand and x86 server unit as it seeks to stay afloat. ®

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