Chinese tech giant Huawei has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government over a law that prohibits federal agencies from using its equipment. It has also accused the U.S. of hacking its servers and stealing its intellectual property and technical information.
Huawei Chairman Guo Ping said in a press conference held in Shenzhen last week that, “We are compelled to take this legal action as a proper and last resort. The US government has long branded Huawei a threat. It has hacked our servers and stolen our emails and source code and has repeatedly failed to produce any evidence to support its restrictions on Huawei products.”
The lawsuit seeks to overturn a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which bans U.S. government agencies from using equipment from Huawei or ZTE, another Chinese technology company. In its lawsuit, Huawei claims the NDAA legislation is unconstitutional, as it singles out a group or an individual “without any executive or judicial process.”
The U.S. has suspicious for many years that the Chinese government could use back doors on Huawei devices to spy on other countries, saying that Huawei is legally bound to providing the government with data. The arrest of a former Huawei executive in Poland in January on spying charges has added fuel to these suspicions.
Guo’s hacking accusations appear to be in reference to a massive cache of information leaked by former National Security Agency contractor, Edward Snowden, in 2013. The leaked documents showed that the U.S. agency penetrated Huawei servers in its Shenzhen headquarters seeking information on its networking equipment that the company has said is used by a third of the world’s populations. The NSA hack also reportedly searched for data links between Huawei and the Chinese military.
The U.S. government has been concerned with Huawei since Ren Zhengfei, a former military engineer in the People's Liberation Army, founded the company in 1987. Huawei has deployed its products and services in more than 170 countries, and serves 45 of the 50 largest telecom operators. Its 1,500+ networks reaches one third of the world's population. Huawei overtook Ericsson in 2012 as the largest telecommunications-equipment manufacturer in the world and overtook Apple in 2018 as the second-largest manufacturer of smartphones in the world, behind Samsung Electronics.
The Huawei lawsuit is also complicated by the criminal charges that Huawei faces in the U.S. related to technology theft and trade sanction violations against Iran. Huawei’s violation of U.S. trade sanctions was stated as the reason that Guo’s daughter, Meng Wangzhou, who is also the CFO of the company, was arrested in Canada last December.
Because of the accusations against Huawei by the U.S. government, American allies around the world have also been under pressure from Washington to avoid purchasing Huawei and ZTE telecommunications network equipment. Countries on Washington’s list include Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, New Zealand the United Kingdom and South Korea. Washington has gone so far as to state that any country that utilizes Huawei’s equipment will be unable to connect into key U.S. IT systems, including those that relate to aviation, defense, energy and intelligence.
In an effort to clear its name around the world, Huawei is involved in a combination of lawsuits and public relations activities. As well as Huawei’s corporate lawsuit, Meng Wangzhou has also filed a lawsuit against the Canadian government for wrongful imprisonment. Huawei has also taken out full-page ads in major New Zealand newspapers in February advocating that the New Zealand government include Huawei’s equipment in the country’s upcoming 5G systems and the company has said that it would allow its source code to be viewed by any government that buys its equipment.
As Frank J. Cilluffo, Director, McCrary Institute for Cyber and Critical Infrastructure Security, Auburn University noted in an article published in “The Conversation”: “ The focus of many security agencies and countries on Huawei’s involvement in 5G systems raises the stakes, too: The next generation of wireless technology is expected to fuel even more connectivity in the “internet of things,” linking smart cars, smart homes and smart cities together. Billions of devices will be involved, all communicating with each other, forming what could become a surveillance web over much of the planet, and exponentially expanding the number of potential targets for spying. As governments seek to ensure 5G is secure and trusted around the world, Huawei may find its prospects limited by its links to the Chinese government.”