A newly introduced bipartisan House bill advocates for a national strategy to protect build outs of 5G wireless technology from alleged security threats posed by foreign suppliers, such as Chinese telecom equipment maker Huawei.
The Secure 5G and Beyond Act, sponsored by Rep. Representative Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) and five other Congressional members, would require the administration to develop an unclassified, national strategy to protect U.S. consumers and assist allies in maximizing the security of their 5G telecommunications systems. The strategy would also promote research and development by U.S. companies to improve broadband access to all Americans.
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“The growing prominence of 5G telecommunications systems in China and abroad, particularly through Huawei, should concern all Americans,” said Spanberger. “To protect our national security and maintain our economic strength, we must build a nationwide game plan to strengthen our mobile networks and protect the privacy of American families,” she said. “Safeguarding Americans’ access to the next generation of telecommunications should never be a partisan issue.”
Huawei: 5G Network and Cybersecurity Concerns
Concern over the security from Chinese government surveillance of Huawei’s technology has grown in a number of countries, particularly in the U.S. and U.K. but also in Australia, Canada and Germany. Not only is Huawei barred from bidding for government contracts in the U.S. but Congress has also urged European countries to refrain from using its gear to build new 5G telecom networks.
Specifically, Spanberger's bill would require the administration to build an inter-agency strategy to:
- Secure 5th generation and future-generation telecommunications systems and infrastructure across the U.S.
- Assist U.S. allies and defense partners in maximizing the security of 5G systems and infrastructure in their countries.
- Protect the competitiveness of U.S. companies, the privacy of U.S. consumers, and the integrity of international standards-setting bodies against foreign political influence.
The Secure 5G and Beyond Act is companion legislation to a bill introduced in the Senate by Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX), Mark Warner (D-VA), and Richard Burr (R-NC). The Senate version has been referred to the Senate Commerce Committee.
Last week, the Commerce Department added Huawei to its list of blacklisted trade groups. However, it’s not a completely shut door. The agency said on Monday that it had granted a 90-day license for mobile phone companies and internet broadband providers to work with Huawei to keep existing networks online and protect users from security risks. Google promptly said it will send software updates to Huawei phones running on Android until August 19.
The House bill’s additional sponsors include Reps. Susan Brooks (R-IN), Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ), Francis Rooney (R-FL), Elissa Slotkin (D-MI), and Elise Stefanik (R-NY). Backers of the proposed legislation appeared to have drawn heavily on a 2018 North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) report, Huawei, 5G and China as a Security Threat. The document pointed ominously to Huawei’s growing influence as a provider of 5G technology that could be exploited by Chinese intelligence to spy on foreign corporations and governments. It recommended that non-Chinese companies invest in 5G research and development and suggested that U.S. and European companies rethink using Huawei in build outs of their 5G infrastructure.
A Cyber Guarantee?
Huawei’s chairman Liang Hua said last week that he will sign “no-spy agreements” with foreign governments to reassure skeptical lawmakers in Europe that it will not allow surveillance access into its technology.
Among the latest developments in the Huawei issue:
- May 19 - U.S.: Commerce Dept. grants a 90-day license for mobile phone companies and broadband providers to work with Huawei to keep existing networks online and secure.
- May 16 – U.K.: Huawei poses such a grave security risk to the U.K. that the government must reconsider its decision to give it a limited role in building 5G networks, a former head of Britain’s MI6 foreign spy service said.
- May 16 – China: The country’s leadership on May 16, 2019, slammed a decision by the U.S. government to put telecom equipment giant Huawei on a blacklist and said it will take steps to protect its companies, in a further test of ties as the superpowers clash over trade.
- May 14 and 15 – U.S.: President Donald Trump signed an executive order barring U.S. companies from using telecommunications equipment made by firms posing a national security risk, paving the way for a ban on doing business with China’s Huawei.