The government has largely dismissed many of the security concerns raised by the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) report last month, which criticised the ten year relationship between BT and Chinese networking giant Huawei.
MPs said that they were “shocked” that officials had chosen not to inform, let alone consult, Ministers on the BT’s decision to purchase equipment from Huawei, which could pose a risk to the UK’s critical national infrastructure (CNI).
The committee stated that “the difficulty of balancing economic competitiveness and national security seems to have resulted in a stalemate [and] given what is at stake, that is unacceptable”.
However, the government has issued a rebuke stating that it does not agree that “national security issues are overlooked”.
Huawei has come under scrutiny in recent months after being blocked from doing business with the US after allegations that it has links to the People’s Liberation Army in China and that ultimately any Chinese company is subject to the Chinese government.
Unlike the US, Ministers in the UK appear to be less concerned with these issues. Prime Minister David Cameron recently welcomed the company with open arms after it promised a £1.3 billion investment up until 2017 in research, development, centres of excellence and procurement.
Ministers have now hinted that Huawei will be allowed to continue increasing its presence in the UK. Its response to the ISC states: “Boosting trade and investment is a key part of the Government’s plan for growth and we are working hard to develop our economic relationships with key trading partners, including China.”
The government said that it is working with major Communication Service Providers in the UK to ensure that networks and the services they provide are appropriately secure. It said that it is important that a “balanced approach is taken” and that it feels confident that the networks in the UK that use Huawei equipment are operated to a high standard of security and integrity.
MPs also brought into question the effectiveness of the government’s Cyber Security Evaluation Centre (the Cell), which was established in 2010 to scale the UK’s protection across other communication service providers as Huawei’s presence in the UK increased.
The ISC recommended that that National Security Adviser conducts a substantive review of the effectiveness of the Cell as a matter of urgency, which the government has agreed to.
More importantly, however, the ISC was concerned that the Cell was run by Huawei and said that it is “highly unlikely either to provide, or to be seen to be providing, the required levels of security assurance”. It wants to see the Cell run by GCHQ employees.
The government has not yet agreed to this point, but will consider it as part of the Cell’s review by the National Security Adviser.