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National security debate over Huawei 5G network

What are the implications of Huawei's involvement in our 5G network and what threat does this pose to the UK's national security?

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Image Credit: MASTER SGT. JOSHUA DEMOTTS

A leaked report obtained by The Daily Telegraph on Wednesday revealed that the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei will be authorised to build “non-core” parts of the UK’s next generation network 5G, despite repeated international and domestic warnings about the Chinese tech giant and its relation-ship with the Chinese state. This comes just a day after the CIA is reported to have uncovered evidence that Huawei has been receiving funding from China’s National Security Commission, the People’s Liberation Army and a third branch of the Chinese state intelligence network.

Huawei is the world’s second-largest phone manufacturer by volume and the world’s largest manufacturer of telecommunication goods such as antennae, phone receivers and transmitters. It was involved heavily in the implementation of the U.K’s 4G cellular network in 2009, so why is there such concern about the company’s involvement in the implementation of the 5G network now? To answer this you have to understand what the 5G network actually is. 1G was about the analogue phone allowing us to call one another, 2G allowed us to send SMS message, 3G introduced the smart phone allowing us to access digital broadband services and 4G increased the speed at which the first three generations worked. 5G, however, will introduce us to an interconnected system where by technologies are able to communicate with one another and communicate with you. For instance the 5G network will allow our homes to regulate their temperature to an optimum level, allow our fridges to order groceries when empty and our washing machines to clean our clothes when we’re not there. In our current world we have to in-struct our machines what to do, in a 5G world machines may choose to communicate directly to us or with each other. As 5G networks connect and run more of our infrastructure the potential economic gains from such an interconnected technology network are estimated to potentially increase annual growth to as high as 6.3 per cent GDP.

Huawei claims that currently they are 18 months ahead of their nearest competitor in research and development of 5G technology and are therefore perfectly positioned to implement the UK’s 5G network. So what’s the problem? The core is-sue with Huawei is that there have been concerns over the companies relationship with the Chinese state,the founder and CEO, Ren Zheng-fei, was himself formerly a member of the Chinese People’s Liberation army in the 1960's. Further concern came in July 2017 when the Chinese government passed the national intelligence law part of which states that if asked, all Chinese citizens and companies must assist the Chinnese intelligence services in any matter relating to national security. The fear is that Huawei will build backdoors into our most sensitive and secure core networks on behalf of the Chinese state in order to allow the Chinese intelligence services to carry out surveillance and espionage operations. This, in conjunction with a new network of billions of interconnected machines, would give the Chinese state the ability to interrupt our communications, shutdown traffic control systems and even the national grid. The situation has been complicated further by the US which has actively instructed all members of the “five eyes” intelligence grouping (US,Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand) to exclude the company from any involvement of the implementation of a 5G network out of fear that it will comprise routine intelligence sharing between the five nations.

Huawei’s relationship with the US was complicated further in December when Huawei’s CFO, Meng anzhou, was arrested in Vancouver on behalf of the US, which wants to extradite her to face trial on charges relating to Huawei’s dealings with Iran. The arrest caused major up-set between American and Chinese relations, mainly because she is the daughter of Huawei’s founder Ren Zhengfei. Shortly after Meng Wan-zhou’s arrest in Canada, two Canadian citizens were detained in China on unspecified national security charges, while a further Canadian citizen, Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, had his initial sentence of 15 years increased to the death penalty on drug smuggling charges.The UK’s decision to authorise Huawei’s involvement in the implementation of its 5G network comes after a report was published by the National Cyber Security Centre (a branch of GCHQ) in November 2018. In a recent interview with BBC Panorama the head of the National Cyber Security Centre, Dr.Ian Levy, stated that although there was no evidence of initial cyber espionage or surveillance in Huawei’s existing technology, there were concerns that its cyber security engineering was“very shoddy” and could leave core networks highly vulnerable to cyber attacks.

Despite the repeated warnings of the US and the UK security services, the decision to allow Huawei to supply equipment in the implementation of our 5G network is believed to have been taken at a meeting of the government’s national security council on Tuesday. However, the leaked report to The Daily Telegraph on Wednesday also suggests that the move to authorise Huawei’s involvement is believed to have been met with opposition from four senior cabinet ministers,raising questions about the source of the highly sensitive leak. The fact still remains, however, that Huawei will now play a role in the implementation of the UK’s 5G network and subsequently a part in the UK’s national security infrastructure. The question we are therefore left with is not can we trust Huawei but how do we deal with the global dominance of Chinese technology firms and more importantly the emergence of China as the new global hegemon.

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