No technical grounds to ban Huawei, DCMS told

Science and Technology Committee tells Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport that there are no technical grounds for it to exclude Huawei

The cross-bench Science and Technology Committee has told the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) that while geopolitical or ethical concerns may lead the government to impose a total ban on the use of Huawei’s networking and mobile equipment in the UK, there are no technical grounds to do so.

In a letter to culture secretary Jeremy Wright, committee chairman Norman Lamb acknowledged that consideration would have to be given to policies enacted by key UK allies, including the US, and referenced the implication of Huawei as a supplier of surveillance technology used in state-sponsored oppression, including, allegedly, within China.

But Lamb said the committee’s evidence-gathering exercise had uncovered nothing to suggest that the complete exclusion of Huawei from the UK’s 5G or telecoms networks would be a proportionate response.

“Regardless of the actual security risk posed by equipment from Huawei or any other vendor, telecommunications networks are designed such that they are secure even if their individual components are not,” he wrote.

“Supply chains for networks have become global and complex. Many vendors use equipment that has been manufactured in China, so a ban on Huawei equipment would not remove potential Chinese influence from the supply chain.

“Banning Huawei would also reduce market competition, giving network operators less leverage on equipment vendors to demand high security standards.”

Lamb also pointed out that no evidence had emerged so far of any increased security risk from Huawei, noting that the supplier itself had argued that it was closely watched, and that if it was engaging in malicious behaviour or acting as a facilitator for Chinese intelligence-gathering, that would “certainly destroy” its business.

He did, however, note that the work of the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre (HCSEC) had identified significant technical issues in Huawei’s engineering processes, and urged the government to keep a close eye on its work, and be prepared to act to restrict the use of Huawei equipment should progress continue to be unsatisfactory.

Even though the building blocks of the UK’s 5G mobile networks are now being laid, and both EE and Vodafone have launched a geographically limited 5G service, Lamb said the outcome of the Telecoms Supply Chain Review would clearly influence the timing of the deployment of 5G in the UK, as would any further delays in its publication. He urged the government to publish the outcome of the review by the end of August.

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