Minister Slams Deutsche Telekom over Slow Progress on Huawei Security

Nancy Faeser, Germany’s Minister of the Interior (pictured) has warned the country’s telcos that the cost of replacing Huawei equipment is not an excuse to compromise security, through an interview she gave to Handelsblatt last week. Per the article, with my translation below:

Ungeachtet der Kostenrisiken für die Telekommunikationskonzerne betonte die Ministerin, dass Komponenten untersagt würden, wenn “gravierende Sicherheitsrisiken” bestünden. “Dann müssen die Netzbetreiber handeln und die Komponenten ausbauen”, sagte sie. “Da lasse ich mich auch durch das Kostenargument nicht beirren.”

Faeser warnte zugleich vor steigenden Risiken durch Spionage — vor allem Russlands und Chinas. Wichtig sei hierbei auch, “dass wir uns international gegenseitig unterstützen”, sagte die SPD-Politikerin. “Insbesondere bei der Ausspähung der Wirtschaft durch China ist eine sehr enge Vernetzung der Sicherheitsbehörden unerlässlich.”

The minister emphasized that components would be prohibited if there are “serious security risks”, irrespective of the cost for telecommunications companies. “Then the network operators must act by extending the range of components,” she said. “I don’t allow arguments about costs to fool me either”.

At the same time, Faeser warned of the increasing risk of espionage, primarily from Russia and China. It is also important “that we support each other internationally,” said the SPD politician. “Very close networking between the security authorities is essential, especially when China is spying on the economy.”

Some quarters of the German press have accused German politicians of hypocrisy over their own lax security standards. A separate opinion column in Handelsblatt observed that the state has complete control of the national train provider, Deutsche Bahn, but has permitted its trains to be networked using Huawei equipment.

German ambivalence about security is too often excused by idealists and businesspeople who like having a prosperous and politically moderate country at the heart of Europe but are reluctant to examine some of the inconsistencies in how this has been accomplished. Faeser’s party, Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD), has been involved in coalition governments for 21 of the last 25 years, but its leaders now seek to distance themselves from past decisions that delivered insufficient funding for security whilst the country simultaneously became too dependent on Russian fossil fuels. In 2021, Olaf Scholz became the first SPD head of government since Gerhard Schröder in 2005; Schröder has become a source of shame for both the SPD and the whole of Germany by acting as an apologist for Putin and Russian energy companies. The SPD even tried to expel Schröder from the party, but amazingly can find no rule that has been broken by a politician who nakedly favored Russian business interests whilst in office, and who continues to refer to Putin as his friend whilst drawing a million-dollar annual salary to represent an energy business owned by the Russian state.

Former SPD leader Frank-Walter Steinmeier is now the country’s President, and he recently used this ceremonial position to provoke fear about the rising popularity of fascism. However, politicians like Steinmeier are guilty of branding NATO as warmongers to distract from Germany’s consistent failure to meet the NATO obligation of spending 2 percent of GDP on defense. Politicians of the German right also repeatedly excused underspending on national security by making promises to ramp up expenditure in future, although this meant Europe’s largest economy effectively sought to be subsidized by other NATO members in the interim. But even with war raging in Ukraine, the current government has once again kicked the can down the road by reneging on yet another promise to increase defense expenditure.

The consensus-driven politics of Germany has many admirers, but it also means businesses follow the lead of governments that are too quick to indulge in penny-pinching when they need to spend money on national security. It has been several years since NATO allies including the UK and France took decisive action to limit the threat posed by Chinese makers of network equipment. The US failed to appreciate the strategic implications of allowing the decline of its network manufacturers, but whilst Open RAN is not the solution they have been hoping for, at least it shows their leaders recognize there is a problem. Meanwhile, German politicians and German businesses continue to dither. They are still trying to deliberate which specific network components may or may not be secure, instead of devising a credible strategy for securing the nation.

Hollow words are spouted about defeating fascism whilst harking back to events that occurred during the first half of the 20th century. Meanwhile, Putin claims he invaded Ukraine to defeat fascism. The German political and business consensus sought accommodations with the increasingly totalitarian and expansionist powers of China and Russia in the hope of increasing profits in the short term. If German leaders want to protect the people from fascism, they should stop trying to remedy the problems of the 1930’s and 1940’s, and open their eyes to the threats that democracies will face in the 2030’s and 2040’s. That threat is also technological in nature, and it will be exploited by Chinese and Russian autocrats who rightly treat Western support for democracy and free speech as obstacles to their ambitions.

Eric Priezkalns
Eric Priezkalns
Eric is the Editor of Commsrisk. Look here for more about the history of Commsrisk and the role played by Eric.

Eric is also the Chief Executive of the Risk & Assurance Group (RAG), a global association of professionals working in risk management and business assurance for communications providers.

Previously Eric was Director of Risk Management for Qatar Telecom and he has worked with Cable & Wireless, T‑Mobile, Sky, Worldcom and other telcos. He was lead author of Revenue Assurance: Expert Opinions for Communications Providers, published by CRC Press. He is a qualified chartered accountant, with degrees in information systems, and in mathematics and philosophy.