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European Parliament Calls for 5G Checks on Chinese Suppliers

Iain Morris
3/13/2019
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The European Parliament has called for a new 5G certification scheme to address IT security threats from China while a dispute rages about the role of Chinese equipment giant Huawei in the region's telecom markets.

Adopting a new Cybersecurity Act this week, the European Parliament said there remained "deep concern" about allegations that "backdoors" in Chinese network products would give Chinese authorities access to private data in the European Union.

It has urged the European Commission to mandate ENISA, the EU Cybersecurity Agency, to develop a new certification scheme ensuring 5G rollout meets "the highest security standards."

The statement comes shortly after the US threatened to share less intelligence with Germany if it does not take steps to exclude Huawei from its 5G market. German authorities previously said they would tighten up security checks but not impose a blanket ban on any specific vendor.

Huawei and its supporters, which include many of the service providers that rely on its products, say the US campaign against the company is politically motivated and guided by US concern about China's growing technological clout.

The Chinese vendor has led calls for a cybersecurity regime based on GDPR -- the EU's set of rules on data privacy and protection -- that would assess products from all vendors, including rivals like Cisco, Ericsson and Nokia.

Huawei executives in Brussels last week said there could be no security certainties about equipment from any vendor because of today's complex global supply chains.

Its efforts, which have been welcomed by the UK's Vodafone, seem intended to deflect some of the attention from Huawei and ensure that competitors are subject to the same scrutiny.

But the European Parliament says its concerns relate specifically to the Chinese. Laws in China could be a threat to the EU, it says, because Chinese companies are required "to cooperate with the state in safeguarding a very broad definition of national security also outside their own country."

Huawei's opponents think banning the company is justified because under Chinese law it would have to share information at the government's request.

Ren Zhengfei, Huawei's founder, has repeatedly said his company has never shared information with Chinese authorities and that he would rather shut down the business than accede to government demands.


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Europe could seek to address concern about China with rules that would force telecom operators to use a multitude of equipment vendors in their networks, said the European Parliament. New "multi-phase procurement processes" might also be an option, it said.

The UK, which is conducting its own supply chain review amid security concerns, is reportedly considering measures to prevent any operator from using Huawei in more than 50% of its network.

But that seems unlikely to go far enough for US hawks determined to block Huawei's activities in Europe and other "friendly" nations.

The UK is likely to be under more pressure than Germany because it is part of the "Five Eyes" intelligence-sharing partnership, whose other members include Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US. It is also due to leave the European Union at the end of March and may be looking for closer trade relations with the US in the wake of its departure.

The Cybersecurity Act that came into force this week covers the certification of products used in critical infrastructure, including energy grids, water, energy supplies and banking systems. The European Commission will decide by 2023 whether some of the checks defined under the Cybersecurity Act should become mandatory.

European authorities were previously reported to be considering changes to legislation on critical infrastructure that would lump 5G telecom networks into the definition. Such an amendment could effectively prevent Huawei from participating in 5G telecom markets because of existing legislation about Chinese involvement in critical infrastructure projects.

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— Iain Morris, International Editor, Light Reading

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