Another Huawei Scandal, Another Denial
Despite a long-running campaign, the US has never been able to prove that China's Huawei creates network vulnerabilities.
But Huawei has been credibly accused of many other things.
So many, in fact, that we can break them into categories.
The first is IP theft. Huawei has settled legal cases over alleged IP theft with Cisco (2004), Motorola Solutions (2011) and T-Mobile (2014). (See Huawei: Cisco Code Is Gone and T-Mobile Accuses Huawei of Espionage.)
The T-Mobile case, in which Huawei employees allegedly stole a mobile phone testing unit, is now a criminal indictment.
Then there's the espionage.
Huawei employees in the Czech Republic say they were expected to collect personal details of government officials and clients and that this information would be shared with Chinese embassy staff.
In January Huawei sacked an employee -- a former Chinese embassy staffer -- arrested as an alleged spy.
Then there's Huawei's assistance to abusive regimes.
A Wall Street Journal investigation published Thursday asserts that the company has enabled Uganda President Museveni, a Beijing ally and major aid recipient, to harass and attack opposition activists.
Huawei sells street surveillance cameras (installed even in slum areas) as well as network equipment to Uganda.
But the explosive claim is that Huawei technicians helped security services crack into activists' phones.
Huawei experts "worked with us" to install spyware so activists could be surveilled, a security official is heard saying on tape.
An opposition leader, popular singer Bobi Wine, told the Journal he was arrested and assaulted when police raided a secret meeting.
The Journal says Huawei sold similar surveillance equipment to Zambia and Algeria. In the case of Zambia, it helped security services access the phones and Facebook pages of critical bloggers.
Huawei's response was that an internal investigation had found the claims were not true and that its code of business conduct prohibits employees from breaching customers' privacy or breaking laws.
Let's note here that whatever privacy code Huawei might have, it is redundant in its home market. There are no limits on the ability of Chinese police or other agencies to intrude into apps, networks or devices.
It is Huawei's misfortune to be from a country renowned for its ubiquitous surveillance and abuse of individual rights.
It can't do much about that, but it can give a much better account of itself. In none of these cases has Huawei managed to give its own version of events.
It may be that the cases of alleged IP theft, for example, were carried out by employees without the knowledge of senior executives.
But the company never troubles to explain and invariably issues a boiler-plate response denying all allegations and asserting its compliance with the law.
That doesn't serve the purposes of the company or its clients.
Operators may not believe that Huawei is going to insert vulnerabilities into their network, but they need to be reassured that it is a trustworthy and ethical partner. The same goes for the consumers that buy its phones.
That may seem unfair, but Huawei is not above a little moralizing itself about the "3 billion people in 170+ countries" that it connects.
That is a good it brings to the world, but it might want to recognize that others aren't thrilled to be doing business with those who enable abusive behavior.
These repeated allegations of bad faith behavior may be just that -- allegations -- but they are so frequent and so specific that they are impossible to ignore.
If the claims are false, there is no reason why Huawei cannot lay out its case.
If, however, as the evidence suggests, they have some substance, Huawei can hardly complain if people won't buy its products.
In which case, the company needs a great deal more than a code of conduct. It needs a moral compass.
— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading