Like U.S. lawmakers, Brits raise spying fears over Huawei gear

A new report from the Intelligence and Security Committee in the British Parliament questions the procedures and protocols used that allowed the Chinese telecom-gear maker to expand its operations in that country.

British Prime Minister David Cameron meets Huawei CEO Ren Zhengfei at Downing Street, London, last year. Huawei

A British Parliamentary committee has raised security concerns, echoing fears in Congress, about the potential threat that Chinese telecommunications-gear maker Huawei could be snooping on government and business interests.

The Intelligence and Security Committee issued a scathing, 27-page report Thursday, expressing shock over the lack of oversight regarding the manner in which Huawei gear has spread throughout that country's "critical national infrastructure." Rather than aggressively investigating concerns raised in the United States and elsewhere about the possible threat of relying on Huawei gear, British government agencies balked over worries that they would need to compensate the company for losses incurred by a probe.

"The Government's duty to protect the safety and security of its citizens should not be compromised by fears of financial consequences, or lack of appropriate protocols," the report reads. "However, a lack of clarity around procedures, responsibility, and powers means that national security issues have risked, and continue to risk, being overlooked."

Concerns in the U.K. are similar to ones raised in the United States by lawmakers worried about Huawei's possible ties to the Chinese government. The concerns focus on Huawei's secretive founder and chairman, Ren Zhengfei , who years ago served as a civil engineer for the People's Liberation Army. Neither Ren nor Huawei have been able to persuade U.S. lawmakers that the company operates independently from the Chinese government.

That led the House Intelligence Committee to issue a report last October that accused Huawei, and another Chinese telecommunications-gear maker, ZTE, of posing a national security threat . The 52-page report discouraged American businesses from buying gear from either company, because of worries that both companies might snoop on American businesses and individuals if the Chinese government enlisted them to do so.

In defending itself against the claims by U.S. lawmakers, Huawei often pointed to its business in the United Kingdom, where it's grown quickly and without interference from government officials. Just last September, Ren met with British Prime Minister David Cameron to seal a deal to pump 1.3 billion pounds, or $2 billion, into its British operations, and to nearly double its 800-person staff in the country by 2017.

For its part, Huawei pointed today to comments in the Parliamentary report that cast some ambiguity on the espionage concerns. Indeed, the report was more critical of British protocols for detecting potential threats to its infrastructure than of Huawei itself.

"Huawei appreciates that the report attempts to respectfully balance legitimate concerns with actual facts, carefully making multiple references to 'potentially,' 'perceived,' and 'theoretically' rather than to outright misrepresent the facts such as has been done elsewhere," Bill Plummer, Huawei's vice president of external affairs, said in a statement. "We look forward to working further with our customers and government in the U.K. and elsewhere towards the establishment of rational and effective industrywide disciplines and standards to better secure global networks."

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About the author

Jay Greene, a CNET senior writer, works from Seattle and focuses on investigations and analysis. He's a former Seattle bureau chief for BusinessWeek and author of the book "Design Is How It Works: How the Smartest Companies Turn Products into Icons" (Penguin/Portfolio).

 

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