ALEX BRUMMER: Equifax scandal shows the dangers of giving Huawei a share of Britain’s 5G network
Boris Johnson and members of the National Security Council who voted glibly to allow Huawei Technologies a 35 per cent share in Britain’s 5G mobile technology might want to take a look at the indictment just issued by the US Justice Department.
It charges four members of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (CPLA) with responsibility for the biggest hack in history.
The CPLA team allegedly breached the data storage of credit checking agency Equifax, stealing the personal details of 145 million Americans.
In allowing Huawei a 35 per cent share in Britain’s 5G mobile technology, the UK has opened a breach with its closest ally, the US, and given a hostile power access to a strategic industry
And before anyone asks what has that got to do with us, it should be remembered that the confidential data of an estimated 700,000 British users of Equifax were hacked too.
As the indictment explains, having gained access to Equifax files, the attackers were able to learn the names, birth dates and social security numbers of nearly half of America’s citizens.
The Justice Department describes the breach as a ‘brazen criminal heist of sensitive information’ and ‘intellectual property’ of an US company.
Huawei likes to claim that as an independent Chinese company it has nothing to do with the CPLA, the Central Committee, President Xi or anyone else in China’s sphere of influence.
As the world has been reminded during the coronavirus crisis, the Beijing government is an autocracy which cannot be trusted with domestic health statistics let alone the sensitive financial data of a rival power.
There are all sorts of reasons why the Johnson government travelled the Huawei route. It wanted to demonstrate that the UK is off to a flying start after leaving the EU by getting a jump on competitors.
It was also under enormous pressure from the mobile operators. Had they looked to competitor-European telecoms engineers, such as Ericsson or Nokia, then the cost would have been £1.5billion higher and the roll-out slower. BT would have been required to rip out existing systems at a heavy price.
UK-owned BT and Vodafone are already under financial pressure. Both have cut dividends and seen share prices drop in a bull market, and wanted the cheapest option.
In allowing Huawei access, the UK has not only opened a breach with its closest ally, the US, but it has given a hostile power access to a strategic industry.
China already is a significant player in our nuclear energy through the financing and technical advice on the Hinkley Point reactor in Somerset, and has a holding in Thames Water.
It remains a contender to take ownership of British Steel in Scunthorpe if French objections can be overcome.
The Government’s decision to limit Huawei’s role in 5G to 35 per cent of the component is meant to be seen as an assurance there will be no bad behaviour.
In terms of competition law, 35 per cent represents an oligopoly position as a supplier.
The notion that the Chinese will be prevented from listening in to our conversations or access data is a fairy tale. The shocking Equifax criminal abuse offers graphic evidence of the dangers.
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