Huawei, controlling the networks?

Does Huawei represent a danger to the national security of European countries? Are European consumers’ data safe when using Huawei? These questions have been for months on the spotlight of politicians and businessmen all over Europe. Why this concern? China‘s direct investment in the European Union has multiplied six fold in the last twenty years, focusing on technology. And Huawei is one of the Chinese companies playing a leading role in this geopolitical game board. In this context, there is concern throughout Europe that the Chinese government can use Huawei’s technology to develop espionage or cyber-attacks.

This Chinese company is deeply present in Europe, where it owns 17.5% of the smartphone market. Moreover, the EMEA region is the origin of 24.3% of Huawei’s total revenues. In this sense, the European Parliament supported in February 2019 the creation of a European instrument to control foreign direct investment to ensure the protection of strategic sectors. And the European Commission recommended in March a common EU approach to 5G network security.

The highest concern is that Chinese companies, legally obliged to share information with the Chinese government’s secret services following the adoption of the National Intelligence Law in 2017, can uncover intelligence from the EU.

European leaders are assessing if Huawei should be involved in infrastructure for 5G or not. In the United Kingdom, the National Cybersecurity Center launched a harsh warning to Huawei for its defective software components and showed its concern for the security of customers’ data. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has questioned the intentions of Huawei in the construction of the 5G network, asking for guarantees so that Huawei does not provide data to the Chinese state. The French government is considering taking measures to limit the presence of the Chinese tech giant, and the head of the French cyber security agency said France is looking at ways to stop Huawei’s gear being used in critical parts of the network where key data such as users’ locations and encryption keys are held. Furthermore, the Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš ordered his cabinet to stop using Huawei mobiles after the Czech cybersecurity agency pointed to Huawei as a security threat, and Poland’s secret services claimed to have evidence that Huawei is spying for the Chinese government.

It is worth highlighting that Vice-president of the European Commission and responsible for the Digital Single Market, Andrus Ansip, said that Europe should be worried about Huawei due to the increasing risks for cybersecurity, and denounced that China requires mandatory backdoors, which allows it to bypass the security systems of a device. Hence, this European top representative warned that it “can put some chip to access our secrets”. In addition, as Ansip explained, any weakness in 5G networks or cyber-attack to future networks of a Member State, would affect the entire EU.

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