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By Mark DaCosta- The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) regime — ignoring local and international concerns — continues the practice of using Huawei’s equipment. Huawei Technologies Ltd (HTL) is a Chinese multinational information technology (IT) and consumer electronics company. The company has, for years, faced numerous allegations of designing its communications equipment with hardware and software that allows governments to spy on citizens. HTL equipment has been banned ny many countries in numerous sensitive areas.
In November 2021, the PPP regime received a donation of 1,000 Internet (WiFi) boxes from HTL. Prime Minister Brigadier (Ret’d), Mark Phillips, who received the devices on behalf of the government, said that, ”This equipment will go a far way in helping us to achieve an important part of our plan for the people of Guyana — that is to bridge the digital divide in the area of connectivity.” The Prime Minister said, too, that the donation will assist his government in its aim to bridge the digital divide by providing access to ICT (Information and Communication Technology) throughout the country.
While there appears to be no public record of where the boxes were installed, one is left to speculate about whether the equipment is being used in government buildings or public areas where journalists and opposition politicians may wish to access the internet via this equipment. Of course, journalists, politicians, activists and other persons may need to exchange sensitive and private information to which the ruling PPP regime may want clandestine and probably illegal access.
In addition to the aforementioned equipment, it is not known whether the PPP regime has received or procured other ICT equipment from HTL. It is known though, that HTL has supplied millions of dollars of equipment to the PPP regime that is being used in a city-wide high-tech video surveillance system.
Local companies that have voiced and acted on concerns about the security risks associated with HTL’s equipment include the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company (GTT). In august 2021, GTT scaled back the use of HTL mobile communications equipment, amid persistent claims by the United States (US) that that company has embedded espionage (spy) gadgets in some of its equipment. GTT’s Chief Executive Officer, Damian Blackburn said, “We have minimised the use of Huawei equipment on our network.” He said, “Our policy is to minimise the use of Huawei.”
HTL has been under scrutiny for some time. In 2005 India banned HTL from bidding on a contract to provide cellular equipment to a major Indian cellular network; In 2009 India’s Department of Telecommunications publicly warned companies to be cautious when doing business with HTL; in 2010 all government arrangements with HTL were cancelled due to, “doubtful integrity and dubious links.” India was not the only country to take action to protect its citizens.
The United Kingdom expressed concern as early as 2005 and raised the issue in its legislature in 2009. In 2012, the governments of Australia and Canada excluded HTL from tendering for contracts to expand their respective countries’ cellular networks.
In 2011 the US government used extraordinary laws to force US companies to disclose ties to HTL. The following year, the US House Intelligence Committee recommended: “[HTL] be barred from doing business with the US government.” The committee described HTL as a national security threat.
According to intelligence analysts, equipment made by HTL is designed with embedded hardware and software to allow remote access to data. Respected German security experts Felix Lindner and Gregor Kopf reported in 2012 that wireless equipment, particularly routers, made by HTL could not only be accessed by external parties, but could actually be controlled. In other words, HTL could give a government the ability to directly take over a HTL-manufactured device, perhaps remotely activating a computer’s webcam or a phone’s microphone, and sending data and images to [government] spy agencies.
In November 2012, then Cabinet Secretary Dr. Roger Luncheon, admitted that the PPP government engages in wiretapping to catch criminals. But how does one know that the system is not being used against journalists, politicians, trade unionists, writers, activists, and private citizens? How do we know that our communications are secure. And, most importantly, with so many alternatives available, why is the PPP regime so determined to use HTL’s equipment?