Britain will reportedly allow Huawei limited access to 5G infrastructure

Prime Minister Theresa May will let the Chinese telecom work on "noncore" systems, a report says.

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British Prime Minister Theresa May

British Prime Minister Theresa May isn't opposed to giving Huawei a bit of 5G-related work.

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British Prime Minister Theresa May apparently gave Huawei the thumbs-up to help build the country's 5G infrastructure, in a limited way.

The National Security Council, which May chairs, agreed on Tuesday to let the scandal-scarred Chinese telecommunications giant work on "noncore" parts of the infrastructure, the Telegraph reported.

Huawei has been a frontrunner for developing 5G infrastructure at this crucial early stage of the evolution of the technology. But the company comes with a security warning -- including from the British government. 

In February, the GCHQ's chief criticized Huawei over security threats it poses from the Chinese government. The US has continually warned its allies about security concerns with Huawei, and it was banned for 5G by the Australian government last August. The concerns stem around the Chinese government's interference with 5G infrastructure built by Huawei.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox and International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt expressed concerns about the agreement, the paper noted.

A government spokesperson said via email that the council's decisions are "confidential" and that the security of the country's telecoms network is "of paramount importance."

"As part of our plans to provide world-class digital connectivity, including 5G, we have conducted an evidence based review of the supply chain to ensure a diverse and secure supply base, now and into the future," the spokesperson wrote, adding that the conclusions drawn from the review would be reported "in due course."

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The decision could frustrate the US, which earlier this year pressured its European allies not to adopt Huawei 5G equipment, citing fears that it could be used to spy for China.

Huawei has continued to deny ties to the Chinese government involving its technology. 

"While we await a formal government announcement, we are pleased that the UK is continuing to take an evidence-based approach to its work and we will continue to work cooperatively with the government, and the industry," a Huawei spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

At a press event Wednesday, members of the Homeland Security Department's supply chain task force pointed out that even if Huawei was building only "noncore" parts of the UK's 5G infrastructure, it could still pose security risks. 

Robert Mayer, senior vice president of cybersecurity at the trade group US Telecom, referred to the UK's report released in March criticizing Huawei's security shortcomings. The report said that the company's approach to software development brings "significantly increased risk to UK operators."

"They state very specifically that they can still only provide limited assurances that there's not a national security issue," Mayer said. "Are we at a point in time when major allies are saying 'we can only provide limited assurances?' Is that the bar that we are going to set? I don't believe that's the bar the US government is setting." 

The DHS task force is an effort between the US government and private industries to manage supply chain risks like the ones Huawei could pose. 

Bob Kolasky, director of the DHS' National Risk Management Center, noted that foreign adversaries have shifted from direct cyberattacks to long-term tactics through supply chain attacks.

"The framework we're trying to build is to have as much understanding of how much risk we're taking, and then continue to monitor the risk," he said. 

UK lawmakers have also spoken out against this decision. Norman Lamb, the chair of the Science and Technology Select Committee, noted there's "significant disagreement" over the reported decision and that ministers will be questioned in an evidence session.

"It is vital that this country makes its own decisions regarding matters of national security, rather than bowing to pressure from others," Lamb wrote in a statement. "However, protecting our national security is non-negotiable. Judgements must be based on evidence and a robust evaluation of risk."

Originally published April 24, 2:49 a.m. PT.
Updates, 3:43 a.m.: Adds government response; 9:33 a.m.: Includes remarks from the US Department of Homeland Security.

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