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US presses France for 'strong security measures' against Huawei

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The United States pressed France on Wednesday to take "strong security measures" against potential breaches from 5G services provided by Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei, saying failure to do so could imperil intelligence exchanges.

[PARIS] The United States pressed France on Wednesday to take "strong security measures" against potential breaches from 5G services provided by Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei, saying failure to do so could imperil intelligence exchanges.

Concerns about Huawei's 5G rollout topped the agenda of a third US-France cybersecurity meeting, Washington's top cyber diplomat Robert Strayer told reporters in Paris.

The United States did not ask France for a Huawei ban, he said, but for strong protections against potential "malicious intrusions" from software and firmware updates of any systems provided by the company.

If France failed to take adequate steps, said Strayer, the United States "will have to reassess how we conduct operations" that require sensitive information-sharing including joint military exercises and counter-terrorism operations.

"The real risk that we see is that if there are unsecure 5G networks coming from untrusted vendors, that that could compromise the data that we want to share with those partners" in Nato, including France and Germany, he said.

5G, or fifth generation, is the latest, high-speed generation of cellular mobile communications.

There has been intense debate in Europe about whether or not to exclude Huawei from developing 5G mobile networks.

Critics, led by Washington, say Huawei is too close to Beijing and its equipment could be used as a tool for spying - a contention the company strongly rejects.

US President Donald Trump has already ordered American firms to cease doing business with market leader Huawei, and has urged allies to follow suit.

'AUTHORITARIAN GOVERNMENTS' 

Germany has so far resisted pressure to ban Huawei. France has said it will not ban Huawei, but the ANSSI regulator will have a strong say in who gets the final authorisation.

"We know that 5G will enable the smart grids, so supplying electricity to homes and businesses, enable telemedicine as well as smart transportation networks, so all of those could be disrupted during a point of potential conflict," said Mr Strayer.

"We're not asking for a particular ban, we're saying: 'adopt the right kind of security measures that will protect your public and your longer-term economic interests against companies like Huawei that are under the control of authoritarian governments."

He said telecoms companies Nokia, Ericsson and Samsung "stand ready" to provide 5G technology, so refusing Huawei should not lead to delays.

And though it was not part of the United States' diplomatic campaign, "it would be a good idea, we think, for countries to also eliminate Huawei in other parts of their earlier generations of network".

On one estimate, it would cost US$3.5 billion to replace all Huawei equipment in Europe, said Mr Strayer.

"Nobody should want to be in the position of offering... the Chinese government access to all their secrets."

Asked if there was proof that Huawei was stealing data for the Chinese government, deputy assistant attorney general Adam Hickey of the US justice department's National Security Division said: "If you ask me for a smoking gun and you wait for it, you might end up getting shot."

AFP