The Malta Independent 19 January 2020, Sunday

Australia to ban Huawei’s 5G over data concerns; Malta may not have any network oversight

Julian Bonnici Wednesday, 18 July 2018, 11:32 Last update: about 3 years ago

Australia is planning to ban Huawei’s planned 5G network in the country, after intelligence agencies raised concerns that the company could be forced to hand over sensitive data to the Chinese central government, Reuters has reported.

The report was published two days before the government signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the telecommunications giant to cooperate on 5G with the possibility of a trial of the technology being introduced to Maltese businesses and citizens in October.

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Speaking to The Malta Independent, a spokesperson for Parliamentary Secretary Silvio Schembri, who oversaw the signing of the MoU, said that “[they] cannot comment on other countries’ approach to Huawei.”

“The Company (Huawei) is a global leader in its field and operates in more than 170 countries worldwide including major European countries like the UK, Italy and Germany. We have no reason why Malta shouldn’t do the same and benefit from the innovations they bring in ICT technology development,” the spokesperson said.

Quoting two sources, Reuters reported that intelligence agencies in Australia flagged issues with Chinese law that requires organizations and citizens to support, assist and cooperate with intelligence work.

“It is a Chinese company, and under Communist law they have to work for their intelligence agencies if requested,” said one of the government sources. “There aren’t many other companies around the world that have their own political committees.”

However, Huawei’s Australian Head insists that the law has no legitimacy outside of China.

Australia, much like other countries, were offered complete oversight of the 5G network, including base stations, towers and radio transmission equipment. A similar model has been employed by the UK, who has government intelligence reviewing all Huawei products, while other including New Zealand, Canada and Germany also are said to have sufficient safeguards.

A government spokesperson did not answer to specific questions asking whether or not the government will have any oversight over the 5G network equipment, and what sort of system they will implement.

Concerns over data sensitivity have been rife ever since the Cambridge Analytica leaks, which revealed how the UK-based company harvested up to 87 million Facebook users’ profiles for its work on political campaigns, including Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and the Leave campaign in the 2016 Brexit referendum.

EU figures showed how more than 6,000 Maltese Facebook users’ personal data had been harvested, making it one the highest per capita in the EU, after the UK.

Huawei has already been practically blocked out of the US market after six top U.S. intelligence chiefs, including the CIA, FBI, NSA and the director of national intelligence, told the Senate Intelligence Committee last February that they would not advise Americans to use products or services from Huawei.

"We're deeply concerned about the risks of allowing any company or entity that is beholden to foreign governments that don't share our values to gain positions of power inside our telecommunications networks," FBI Director Chris Wray testified.

"That provides the capacity to exert pressure or control over our telecommunications infrastructure," Wray said. "It provides the capacity to maliciously modify or steal information. And it provides the capacity to conduct undetected espionage."

In a response, Huawei said that it "poses no greater cyber security risk than any ICT vendor."

A spokesman said in a statement: "Huawei is aware of a range of U.S. government activities seemingly aimed at inhibiting Huawei's business in the U.S. market. Huawei is trusted by governments and customers in 170 countries worldwide and poses no greater cyber security risk than any ICT vendor, sharing as we do common global supply chains and production capabilities."

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