The UK Government announced new security legislation on Tuesday for UK telecoms networks.
If passed, the bill would allow the government to intervene in future 5G telecoms operations, and to force companies, such as BT and Vodaphone, to remove equipment it deems to be from “high-risk vendors”.
The punishment for not following the rules laid out in the bill are fines of up to 10% of a company’s turnover, potentially amounting to around £100,000 per day. Regulator Ofcom will also be given powers to “monitor and enforce industry compliance.”
Commenting on the bill, Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said it would provide the UK with “one of the toughest telecoms security regimes in the world and allow us to take the action necessary to protect our networks”.
The government says it plans to introduce follow-up legislation in the future, which will specify requirements for the design of telecoms networks and to protect them from cyberattacks and audit security.
It follows on from the government’s previous commitments in its 2018 Telecoms Supply Chain Review Report, aiming to establish “an enhanced legislative framework for telecoms security,” and giving the government powers to “take action on the use of high-risk vendors on national security grounds”.
These vendors include Chinese telecoms giant Huawei, which was banned from the UK network earlier this year citing national security concerns and pressure from the Trump administration.
Following on from the Huawei ban announcement, this is Westminster’s first step in creating legislation around such bans.
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Huawei has faced many hurdles in 2020 in its attempts to become part of Britain’s new 5G network, facing reviews into its potential ties with Beijing, and an outright ban by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
The government initially said in January this year that the Chinese firm would be allowed to have a “limited role” in Britain’s 5G network, news that was slammed by Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who said the deal raised “very big” security concerns.
Westminster then made a U-turn in July, placing an outright ban on the company citing issues with national security. Huawei has been accused of colluding with the Chinese Government, a claim amplified by the Trump administration in the US and confirmed in a report released by a Parliament Defence Committee report into 5G security.
The company has fought back against the claims, saying in a statement at the time that the report “lacks credibility, as it is built on opinion rather than fact”.
“We are sure people will see through these accusations of collusion and remember instead what Huawei has delivered for Britain over the past 20 years,” the statement added.
Huawei management has also said that a full UK ban during the Covid-19 pandemic and after Britain leaves the EU next year would do the country “a disservice”.
Huawei’s UK chief, Victor Zhang, said in a statement at the time: “There has been groundless criticism from some about Huawei’s involvement in the UK’s 5G rollout. And there are those who choose to continue to attack us without presenting any evidence.
“Disrupting our involvement in the 5G rollout would do Britain a disservice.”