Netherlands

MPs want answers on Huawei’s role in KPN mobile phone network

Photo: Depositphotos.com

MPs from across the political spectrum have called for a government statement about the role of Chinese telecoms company Huawei in the KPN mobile phone network, the Volkskrant reported on Monday.

The MPs have called for clarity following claims about Huawei’s ability to listen in to phone conversations made in the weekend edition of the Volkskrant.

The paper based its revelations on a Gapgemini report dating from 2010, which said at the time Huawei was able to listen in to conversations made by government ministers and also had access to a database of phones which were being tapped.

Former state company KPN dominated the mobile phone market in 2009, with 6.5 million subscribers and Huawei was an integral part of its technological base. Looking to cut costs further, the company asked Capgemini to draw up a risk analysis as part of preparations to transfer the management of Chinese parts of the system into Huawei’s hands.

The findings were considered so explosive at the time that the report’s authors said that the continuity of KPN could be in danger because the company may lose its licence and the confidence of both the Dutch state and industry.

The researchers could not, however, establish if and how often Huawei listened in to conversations.

Security service

The paper’s sources say that the conclusions of the report were shared with the AIVD security service, but it has declined to answer questions. Ministers from the period too say they were not informed or declined to comment.

However, the Dutch government has decided to exclude Huawei from having a role in the development of the new 5G network, on the advice of the AIVD.

Michel van Eeten, a professor at Delft University and a member of the Cyber Security Council told the paper that the telecommunications market was extremely competitive at that time. ‘That is how cheap Huawei got in,’ he said. ‘At that time, security was not as important. That way of working would be considered unacceptable now.’ There is also more awareness of the geopolitical implications of bringing in outsiders, he said.

Denials

KPN said in a reaction that non of its suppliers had ‘unauthorised, uncontrolled and unlimited’ access to its networks and systems, and that ‘in all the years’ there have not been any indications that Huawei was listening in to conversations

Huawei Nederland said it is impossible to give an informed and detailed reaction to a report that it had not seen. The company said its workers did not have ‘unauthorised access’ to KPN’s data and network

‘Since we started working in the Netherlands 15 years ago we have never been approached about unauthorised actions,’ the company said. ‘Maintaining trust is of paramount importance to us, because it is at the basis of our right to exist.’

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