Do I really believe the Chinese government is spying on me through my Huawei phone?
Maybe they simply don’t spy on South Africa or South Africans. But I must admit that I’m eyeing my Huawei P9 with a bit of suspicion. As Smartphones go, it is great value for money on my contract and it takes the best photos, with its Leica lens.
I’ve had Nokia, Blackberry and Samsung phones over the years. I flash back and wonder whether Finland, Canada and South Korea were also spying on me. I do know for a fact that Facebook and other US based companies are monetizing my information.
It sounds a bit crazy. And paranoid. And Xenophobic. I know that was my reaction too when I saw the article this week in Newsweek, “Huawei smartphones could allow the Chinese government to “maliciously modify or steal information” and “conduct undetected espionage,” according to the head of the FBI.”
This isn’t the first time the US Government, via its Security Agencies has taken aim at Chinese Cell Phone manufacturers. In 2012 the House Intelligence committee specifically asked US government contractors to exclude Huawei or ZTE equipment of parts.
In fact, these Chinese Spying allegations of the United States go back to 2009 and probably further.
Chinese Spying Allegations
I looked back to try to find out where these spying allegations originated? It seems that for many years now Huawei has been challenged by various security agencies within the US. For political or economic reasons they have stated that the Huawei-made telecommunications equipment is designed to allow unauthorized access by the Chinese government and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. The paranoia could stem from the fact that Ren Zhengfei, the founder of the company, served as an engineer in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in the early 1980s or else just from good old US paranoia.
In a 2011 open letter, Huawei stated that the security concerns are “unfounded and unproven” and called on the U.S. government to investigate any aspect of its business
Invoking Cold-War Powers
This China paranoia is always bubbling under the surface for the US government, in spite of the whole new America First Trump World.
In December 2011, Bloomberg reported that the U.S. was invoking Cold War-era national security powers to force telecommunication companies including AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. to divulge confidential information about their networks in a hunt for Chinese cyber-spying.
The Obama administration said little publicly about the matter, and much of the evidence fueling lawmakers’ concerns remains classified.
National Security Threat
On 8 October 2012, the House Intelligence Committee issued a report concluding Huawei and ZTE were a “national security threat.
However, a subsequent White House-ordered review found no concrete evidence to support the House report’s espionage allegations
In 2014 The New York Times reported, based upon documents leaked by Edward Snowden, that the U.S. National Security Agency has since 2007 been operating a covert program against Huawei. This involved breaking into Huawei’s internal networks, including headquarter networks and founder Ren Zhengfei’s communications.
Back to the present and President Donald Trump is once again threatening China with sanctions. This comes only about six months after his I love China love fest with Chinese President Xi Jinping late in 2017.
Capacity to Conduct Undetected Espionage
On February 14, 2018, the heads of six major US intelligence agencies (FBI, CIA, NSA, DNI, and NGA) warned that American citizens shouldn’t use products and services made by Chinese tech giants Huawei and ZTE, in testimony to the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
During his testimony, FBI Director Christopher Wray said that the government was “deeply concerned about the risks of allowing any company or entity that is beholden to foreign governments that don’t share our values to gain positions of power inside our telecommunications networks.” He added that this would provide “the capacity to maliciously modify or steal information. And it provides the capacity to conduct undetected espionage.
When reached for comment on the allegations, a Huawei spokesperson provided the following statement:
“Huawei is aware of a range of U.S. government activities seemingly aimed at inhibiting Huawei’s business in the U.S. market. Huawei is trusted by governments and customers in 170 countries worldwide and poses no greater cybersecurity risk than any ICT vendor, sharing as we do common global supply chains and production capabilities. We are committed to openness and transparency in everything we do. Ultimately Huawei will continue to develop its global business through a significant commitment to innovation and R&D and to delivering technology that helps our customers succeed in all markets that value the innovation and value it delivers.”
Threat of Chinese Students and Academics
And then to top the Xenophobic paranoia of the Huawei Smartphones, FBI Director Wray claimed this week that Chinese operatives acting as professors, scientists and students have infiltrated American universities. There are reportedly some 350,000 Chinese students enrolled at American universities, or 35 percent of the one million foreign students in the country
I’m not taking a chance with my phone. Maybe China will want to start spying on us too. I’m leaving it switched off, downstairs in my office when I go to bed.
Writing this has made me hungry. Just running out to get a Veg Chow Mein. Maybe if I photograph my meal with my Huawei phone the Chinese Government will know I am friendly and not bother spying on me..