UK proposes law to give government power to 'remove high risk vendors such as Huawei'

Saleha Riaz
·3 min read
US officials are concerned Huawei’s involvement in 5G could allow the Chinese government to spy on sensitive communications. Photo: Getty Images
US officials are concerned Huawei’s involvement in 5G could allow the Chinese government to spy on sensitive communications. Photo: Getty Images

A new, tougher telecoms security law has been laid in the UK parliament on Tuesday to protect the country from cyber threats and give the government the power to “remove high risk vendors such as Huawei.”

In July, Britain banned Huawei from its 5G network, reversing an earlier decision to allow the Chinese company to work on the critical telecoms infrastructure.

This meant a ban on the purchase of new Huawei equipment from the end of this year and a commitment to remove all Huawei equipment from 5G networks by 2027.

The ‘Telecommunications (Security) bill’ creates powers that will allow the government to “enshrine those decisions in law and manage risks from other high risk vendors in the future,” the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport said in a statement.

If the bill is approved, telecoms companies in the UK must follow the new rules or face fines of up to 10% of turnover or £100,000 ($133,363) a day for failing to meet standards.

The bill will strengthen the security framework for technology used in 5G and full fibre networks including the electronic equipment and software at phone mast sites and in telephone exchanges which handle internet traffic and telephone calls, according to the statement.

“This will be a significant step to protect the UK from hostile cyber activity by state actors or criminals,” the department said, adding that over the past two years the government has attributed a range of cyber attacks to Russia and China, as well as North Korea and Iranian actors.

Digital secretary Oliver Dowden said: “We are investing billions to roll out 5G and gigabit broadband across the country, but the benefits can only be realised if we have full confidence in the security and resilience of our networks.”

READ MORE: China's Huawei banned from UK 5G network

“This groundbreaking bill will give the UK one of the toughest telecoms security regimes in the world and allow us to take the action necessary to protect our networks,” he added.

Currently, telecoms providers are responsible by law for setting their own security standards in their networks. However, the ‘Telecoms Supply Chain Review’ concluded by the government last year found providers often have little incentive to adopt the best security practices, the department said.

Telecoms watchdog Ofcom will be given stronger powers to monitor and assess operators’ security, alongside enforcing compliance with the proposed law.

The announcement made in July reversed an earlier decision to limit Huawei to 35% market share in UK 5G. UK prime minister Boris Johnson approved the limited role for Huawei in January, flying in the face of sustained pressure from the US. Donald Trump and US secretary of state Mike Pompeo had repeatedly pressed the UK to follow the likes of Australia in banning Huawei.

The public intervention by Pompeo extends a lobbying campaign by the US to prevent the UK working with Huawei. US officials are concerned Huawei’s involvement in 5G could allow the Chinese government to spy on sensitive communications.

The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre initially approved a limited role for Huawei but launched a new review in May after the US imposed fresh sanctions on the Chinese telecoms giant.

The ban created a headache for Huawei customers like Vodafone (VOD.L) and BT (BT-A.L). BT boss Philip Jansen warned this week it would take 10 years to remove Huawei’s equipment from its network and could lead to service outages.

Dowden said at the time that the ban would delay the launch of the UK’s 5G network by two to three years and add an estimated £2bn costs. He said the government had “not taken this decision lightly.”

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