According to a draft law, companies like Huawei should guarantee that foreign powers cannot spy on their technology. A dubious guarantee, say critics in the Union.
The dispute over the participation of the Chinese technology group Huawei in the expansion of the German 5G network is entering a new – possibly decisive – round. The current draft of the IT security law has been circulating for a few days. Huawei is not mentioned by name in this, but it is still clear who the paragraph 9b of the bill applies to. This is about the possibility of “prohibiting the use of critical components by untrustworthy manufacturers”. The U.S. government and other critics accuse Huawei of trying to spy on its technology for the Chinese state.
According to the paragraph, manufacturers of critical infrastructure parts would have to issue a guarantee in the future. They are supposed to guarantee that they have checked the entire supply chain of their product for weak points and possibilities of misuse. In doing so, they would issue themselves a kind of clearance declaration. If it later turns out that the explanation was wrong, the Federal Ministry of the Interior (BMI) can ban all components of the type or even the manufacturer as a whole.
This solution to the Huawei problem by Horst Seehofer’s department has now been criticized by two sides. Part of the Union faction wants a way to exclude companies like Huawei from the outset for security reasons when awarding 5G infrastructure projects. In a parliamentary position paper that Huawei’s opponents of the federal government had wrested in February this year, it also sounded as if this option was in the law.
There is no longer any question of exclusion from the outset – ideally based on intelligence from the secret services – to the disappointment of Huawei’s opponents. Jürgen Hardt (CDU), foreign policy spokesman for the CDU / CSU parliamentary group, is one of them. He told the SZ: “There are so many inconsistencies about Huawei and its integration with the Chinese state that there can be no question of trust.” As long as the Chinese state always has the last word on economic issues, unilateral declarations – as provided for in the current draft law – are neither controllable nor sanctionable. That is why such explanations are not enough.
IT security experts, who have been dealing with certification processes for years, consider the requirements for the guarantee declaration to be far too broad: “No provider can make the necessary promises and declarations seriously, since all providers, regardless of their origin, offer interfaces for investigative authorities who could also be misused by intelligence agencies for espionage purposes, “says Johannes Rundfeldt, co-director of AG Kritis, a voluntary initiative by experts in critical infrastructure.
The Chancellor’s position on the subject is well known. Angela Merkel has never made a secret of her refusing to completely exclude Chinese suppliers, also to avoid a conflict with the Beijing leadership. The government had “after careful consideration decided to set a standard and to trust our security authorities here”. So Merkel was quoted at the end of 2019 and obviously nothing has changed.
The fact that the plans for the “Lex Huawei” are now moving may also have something to do with Deutsche Telekom. At the end of April, the company announced publicly that it would no longer wait for a federal policy and would in future cooperate more closely with Huawei in the 5G expansion. This would enable the company to create facts that would be difficult to reverse with a law.
Telekom’s decision was probably not entirely voluntary. In order to have any chance of meeting the time targets for 5G expansion set by the Federal Network Agency when the 5G spectrum was auctioned, the company must now begin with the expansion, says AG-Kritis spokesman Rundfeldt. There are hardly any alternatives, European competitors like Nokia and Ericsson are sometimes years behind in the development of Huawei.
Also because of this decision by Telekom, the Huawei opponents now want a quick solution. If it is up to them, the bill should be discussed in one of the next weeks of the session in the Bundestag.