France aims to keep Huawei away from users' 5G location data

A decoration reading '5G' is seen at a mall on May 22, 2019 in Shanghai.  (Photo by Wang Gang/VCG via Getty Images)
A decoration reading '5G' is seen at a mall on May 22, 2019 in Shanghai. (Photo by Wang Gang/VCG via Getty Images)

Huawei won’t be allowed access to users’ location data even if its equipment is used in the roll out of France’s 5G network, according to the head of the French cyber security agency.

Guillaume Poupard said France is looking at ways to stop the Chinese tech giant’s gear being used in critical parts of the network where key data such as users’ locations and encryption keys are held. Poupard said France is adopting a safety-first approach when it comes to 5G data security.

“We will be very vigilant," Poupard said in an interview in Paris this week. "It’s likely we will apply a principle of extra precaution and ban ourselves from using gear makers from ‘high-risk countries’ - one wouldn’t want to mention China.”

French President Emmanuel Macron is trying to tread carefully over Huawei as Donald Trump demands US allies impose a complete ban the Chinese tech giant because of the threat it poses to national security. Macron said last month that France needs to strike a balance between the need for “good technology and to preserve our national security.”

France already has measures in place that have deterred operators from installing Huawei equipment for the critical parts of the existing 4G networks which use different equipment.

Macron and Trump met in Caen, northern France, Thursday for bilateral talks on the side lines of the D-Day commemorations. French officials said security would feature in the discussions, though they didn’t say whether Macron would raise Huawei specifically.

Trump turned the screw on Huawei last month, adding the company to its the export blacklist. That move prevents the company from purchasing components from American suppliers or selling its products in the US. The UK is sending a delegation to the US to seek clarity on how that decision affects companies overseas.

Poupard, a former military cryptography engineer, is in charge of approving the architecture and the rules for France’s 5G network. He insisted he doesn’t want to get dragged into a trade war between the world’s economic superpowers. “That’s not what we do,” he said.

Trump’s demands

He said that the effective prohibition of Huawei gear would only apply to the most sensitive parts of the network.
“In many other segments we could use Chinese equipment,” he said.

France, Germany and the UK have all balked at Trump’s demands to shut Huawei out of 5G networks despite the threat that the US will restrict intelligence sharing unless they comply.
Germany plans to tighten the rules governing the security of its telecom networks but Chancellor Angela Merkel has made it clear she won’t single out any one supplier. The UK is currently reviewing the potential use of the gear maker “rigorously,” Prime Minister Theresa May’s office said.

Focus on Europe

After meeting with May Tuesday, Trump dismissed the idea that the Huawei dispute could disrupt US intelligence sharing with the UK. “because we’re going to have absolutely an agreement.”Poupard’s agency, known as the Anssi in France is working with the US National Security Agency to develop ways to cooperate on technical and operational issues relating to the shifting balance of geopolitical power in the world.

“But our priority is Europe," he said, citing France’s work with Germany and the UK "We want Europe to strengthen its cyber security.”

Beyond the 5G security architecture, Anssi is also monitoring other critical systems and tracing attacks. Its role also includes securing elections.
Macron himself suffered a hack of his campaign emails just days before the first round vote in 2017.

Poupard said there were no significant attacks during the EU elections in May, but his staff are already preparing for France’s 2022 presidential race, which will be a “special target.” The agency may offer to help parties and campaign teams review their network security in the early stage of the race, he said.

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