Huawei technicians aided the Ugandan and Zambian governments spy on their political opponents, leading to their arrest, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Technicians working for Huawei aided members of the government in Uganda and Zambia spy on political opponents according to a report by the Wall Street Journal.
The report cites unnamed senior surveillance officers and adds that an investigation didn’t confirm a direct tie between the Chinese government or Huawei executives. However, it appeared to confirm that employees for the tech giant played a part in intercepting communications but with no evidence on whether they acted on behalf of Huawei or the Chinese government.
It also didn’t find that there was something particular about the technology in Huawei’s network that made such activities possible, according to the Journal.
The list shows encrypted messages, the use of apps like WhatsApp and Skype, and tracking opponents using cellular data.
The WSJ reports that Huawei engineers working in Uganda back in 2018 used Pegasus spyware developed by an Israeli company NSO Group to infiltrate opposition leader Bobi Wine’s WhatsApp, reportedly at the request of a Ugandan cyber-surveillance unit.
A cyber team based at the Ugandan police headquarters asked the Huawei technicians for help after failing to access the encrypted messages using the spyware, security officials told the Journal.
According to the Journal, Pegasus spyware is now being sold by a number of cyber-security firms. Although NSO Group has previously said it has a process for determining which governments it sells to, with an emphasis on selling to those fighting terrorism or crime. In the case that the spyware is being sold by other firms, it is unclear which companies are selling it, and whether they are making similar determinations.
In Zambia, the technicians helped the government access the phones and Facebook pages of a team of opposition bloggers running a pro-opposition news site.
A representative for Zambia’s ruling party confirmed with the paper that Huawei technicians have helped in the fight against news sites with opposing stances in the country, stating that whenever they want to track down perpetrators of fake news, they ask Zicta. This is the lead agency that works with Huawei to ensure that people don’t use Zambia’s telecommunications space to spread fake news.
In a written statement to the Journal, Huawei firmly denied the accusations:
“Huawei rejects completely these unfounded and inaccurate allegations against our business operations. Our internal investigation shows clearly that Huawei and its employees have not been engaged in any of the activities alleged. We have neither the contracts nor the capabilities, to do so,” it said, adding that the company’s “code of business conduct prohibits any employees from undertaking any activities that would compromise our customers or end users data or privacy or that would breach any laws.”
This is very unfortunate considering that Huawei is still facing scrutiny from the US government over fears that Huawei telecoms technology could be used by the Chinese government to spy on the US.
These new allegations could add ammunition to the U.S. government’s allegations that Huawei could be used for espionage on behalf of the Chinese government. However, Huawei has denied these claims, yet the U.S. has remained suspicious of the smartphone maker, with the Department of Justice filing criminal charges in two separate cases in January, alleging its CFO committed wire fraud and violated U.S. sanctions on Iran and that the company stole trade secrets from T-Mobile.
Nonetheless, it’s too soon to say how this might impact the US ban on Huawei technology.
Read the full report on The Wall Street Journal.