Do Huawei and ZTE phones pose real security threats or are these just ambiguous economic protectionist policies?
Top officials from the United States’ top security organizations the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee last 13 February to testify that smartphones made by Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE presented a security threat to the American public.
FBI Director Chris Wray believes that companies “beholden to foreign governments” pose a risk when given access inside the country’s telecommunications infrastructure:
“Huawei is a global leader in networking equipment and the government has previously blocked it from selling technology to some federal agencies. It provides the capacity to maliciously modify or steal information. And it provides the capacity to conduct undetected espionage.”
Huawei issued a statement that the company is keeping track of developments in Congress and reiterated the strong position of its brand in the global smartphone market:
“We operate in 170 countries where there is trust with governments and customers. We pose no greater cybersecurity risk than other vendors. We have never been asked to provide access to our technology or provide any data or information on any citizen or organization to any government or their agencies.”
According to research firm Canalys, Huawei outsells the Apple iPhone in Central and Eastern Europe.
For its part, ZTE issued a statement which read that its mobile phones include components that are manufactured in the United States:
“As a publicly-traded company, we are committed to adhering to all applicable laws and regulations of the United States, work with carriers to pass strict testing protocols, and adhere to the highest business standards.”
In 2012, Congress released the findings of a report which suggested both Huawei and ZTE are companies that should be viewed with suspicion. The allegations were disputed by both companies with Huawei referring to the report as “baseless”.
Republican Senator Tom Cotton introduced a bill that would seek to prohibit the government from entering into agreements with companies that use Huawei or ZTE products.
Congress has also prohibited federal agencies from using products from Russia-based Kapersky Lab because of its alleged ties with the Kremlin.