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Use of the fifth generation telecommunications technology

The Security Assessment Committee – constituted within the scope of the Superior Cyberspace Security Council in Portugal – carried out a security assessment in accordance with legal terms and published Deliberation n.º 1/2023[1], of May 23, 2023, «relating to the use of equipment in public electronic communications networks of the 5th Generation of telecommunications (5G) in Portugal».

Point 5 of the aforementioned deliberation establishes seven objective criteria to exclude companies from national public 5th Generation telecommunications networks. These criteria are not cumulative, it is enough for one or more to be met for exclusion to occur. Thus, this exclusion may, for example, occur, under the terms of subparagraph b), if the use of equipment and services comes from a supplier or provider that «Is domiciled or, in any other relevant way, linked, to a country that is not a EU Member State, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) or the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)».

Portugal is a founding member of NATO, a military organization established in 1949.

For many years, US has been pressuring several countries not to use 5G equipment, for example from the Chinese company Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd, in public electronic communications networks.

For example, on February 28, 2019, the president of the US Federal Communications Commission and the US ambassador in Portugal met with the Portuguese government and publicly declared that «Chinese participation, namely Huawei, ‘constitutes a risk´ that Portugal should not take, under penalty of creating discomfort in its North Atlantic ally»[2].

The Portuguese government tried to react against this pressure. The Prime Minister declared in Parliament on March 19, 2019, that «there is no reason to exclude Huawei from the market»[3].

However, the American ambassador to Portugal insisted and declared, in an interview published on May 8, 2019, that if Portugal opted for Huawei equipment for the 5G network, the relationship between the two countries would change: «Portugal is our second oldest ally and there have been no rifts between us. (…) part of this translates into the sharing of information that we can only have with an ally, especially with NATO allies, at a level that does not exist with many countries around the world. If that is not secure, if the means of delivering [that sensitive information] is not secure, the relationship has to change. We have to think of a new way to communicate this type of information»[4].

On December 5, 2019, the US Secretary of State warned, in a meeting with the Portuguese Minister of Foreign Affairs, against the attribution of 5G telecommunications networks to Huawei[5].

On September 25, 2020, the American ambassador in Portugal insisted again and declared that Portugal «must choose now between its ally or commercial partner, the USA or China – in the auction for 5G technology, the rules of which are being closed and should take place in October. If the Chinese Huawei enters the new telecommunications network, the relationship with Portugal will change»[6].

The criterion set out in paragraph b) of point 5 of Deliberation n.º 1/2023, mentioned above, will prevent companies that are not from the EU, the US or the OECD from participating in Portuguese national public 5G telecommunications networks, based on security grounds which, in a matter that is difficult to assess, could be a political justification for restricting global trade in equipment.

The exclusion of equipment, produced by certain companies, in public 5G electronic communications networks has economic implications at several levels. For example, the Executive Director of the Swedish company Ericsson, which produces 5G electronic communications equipment, criticized, on November 18, 2020, the Swedish government’s decision to exclude, in October 2020, the Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE from public 5G networks. He considered that the exclusion restricted free competition and trade and would delay the launch of new technology[7].

This decision by the Superior Cyberspace Security Council, based on the criterion of «high risk to the security of national networks and services arising from the implementation and use of 5G technology», must be adequate and proportionate to the prevention of existing risks.

In terms of security, a researcher and telecommunications professor at IST explained that «there is no evidence that China, in particular Huawei, is spying, nor is there evidence that it doesn’t, but there is a great reluctance in very large companies in completely abandoning the Huawei hypothesis». «At this moment, it does not seem justifiable to me, from a technological or technical point of view, that it is necessary not to use Huawei material because there is this danger. This is a decision that will be up to Governments to make, it is political». For another expert, professor at IST and researcher at INESC and INOV, «the issue of dangers and cyberattacks has been somewhat misunderstood». «There is, in fact, and this is public and well-known, a trade war between the US and China. And as in any war, the weapons that are available are used and one of them, at the moment, is mobile communications technology, the fifth generation»[8].

In 2012, when only 4th Generation – 4G electronic communications were still being used, a security analysis carried out by the US government found no evidence that the telecommunications equipment company Huawei was spying on China[9] and, in February 20, 2019, in the era of 5G technology, the Director of the National Cyber Security Center of Great Britain declared, at a conference on cybersecurity held in Brussels, that Great Britain was in a position to manage the security risks arising from the use of Huawei telecommunications equipment and found no evidence of malicious activity by the company[10]. However, the British Government decided, in 2020, that, from January 1, 2021, operators could not install Huawei’s 5G components in their telecommunications networks. On the other hand, all equipment produced by the company existing in the networks had to be removed from the 5G infrastructure by 2027[11]. Meanwhile, in 2022, a former British minister stated that the decision to ban Huawei was taken «because the Americans told us we should do it»[12].

Even so, it is necessary to take into account that Portuguese telecommunications companies – Nos, Vodafone and the owner of Meo – guaranteed, on March 6, 2020, that they would not have Huawei technology «at the core of fifth generation networks in Portugal»[13]. In addition to the core or main network, the communications network is made up of several components and other equipment, but the aforementioned Deliberation, of May 23, 2023, ends up excluding all equipment from the company Huawei from Portuguese public 5G electronic communications networks.

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1 Deliberação n.º 1/2023: Critérios objetivos de avaliação dos riscos para a segurança das redes e serviços nacionais decorrentes do uso da tecnologia 5.ª Geração de telecomunicações em Portugal (5G) – cessação de utilização de equipamentos (Deliberation n.º. 1/2023: Objective criteria for assessing risks to the security of national networks and services arising from the use of 5th Generation telecommunications technology in Portugal (5G) – cessation of use of equipment).

2 EUA não querem Huawei na rede 5G em Portugal (US does not want Huawei on the 5G network in Portugal), Jornal Público, 28 de Fevereiro de 2019.

3 Não há nenhuma razão para excluir a Huawei (There is no reason to exclude Huawei), Diário de Notícias, 19 Março 2019.

4 EUA endurece posição: relação com a Huawei afetará partilha de informação secreta com Portugal (US toughens position: relationship with Huawei will affect sharing of secret information with Portugal), Observador, 08 mai. 2019.

5 Pompeo adverte contra Huawei, mas Santos Silva assegura “interesses da segurança nacional” (Pompeo warns against Huawei, but Santos Silva ensures “national security interests”), RTP, 5 Dezembro 2019; Pompeo adverte contra Huawei, Portugal assegura atenção à segurança nacional (Pompeo warns against Huawei, Portugal ensures attention to national security), Expresso, 05.12.2019.

6 EUA pressionam Governo: “Portugal tem de escolher agora entre os aliados e os chineses” (US puts pressure on Government: “Portugal must now choose between its allies and the Chinese”), Expresso, 25 SETEMBRO 2020; EUA pressionam Portugal por causa da China. MNE diz que quem toma as decisões é Portugal (USA puts pressure on Portugal because of China. MNE says that Portugal make the decisions), Lusa e ECO, 26 Setembro 2020; PR reage ao embaixador dos EUA: representantes dos portugueses decidem os destinos do país (PR reacts to US ambassador: portuguese representatives decide the country’s destiny), RTP-Lusa, 27 Setembro 2020; We make the rules, Portugal tells U.S. after China threats, Reuters, September 30, 2020.

7 Ericsson chief hits out at Swedish 5G ban on Huawei, Financial Times, 17/11/2020.

8 NOS, Altice e Vodafone não usam Huawei na rede “core” 5G, apesar de Governo não banir operadora chinesa (NOS, Altice and Vodafone do not use Huawei in the 5G “core” network, despite the Government not banning the Chinese operator), Renascença, 30 jul, 2020.

9 A US government security review has found no evidence telecoms equipment firm Huawei Technology spies for China, BBC, 18 October 2012.

10 Britain managing Huawei risks, has no evidence of spying: official, Reuters, FEBRUARY 20, 2019.

11 U.K. Bans Huawei From 5G Networks in Security Crackdown, Bloomberg, July 14, 2020; Governo britânico decide banir Huawei da rede de telemóvel 5G (UK government decides to ban Huawei from 5G mobile phone network), Jornal Público, 14 de Julho de 2020.

12 UK banned Huawei because US told us to: former minister, Euractiv, Jan 11, 2022; 5G wars: the US plot to make Britain ditch Huawei, The Sunday Times, Richard Kerbaj, Sunday August 21 2022; Clear threat from China was avoided by ditching 5G deal, The Times, Sunday September 04 2022.

13 Huawei não vai integrar o núcleo da rede 5G em Portugal (Huawei will not integrate the core of the 5G network in Portugal), Expresso, 06.03.2020.

The portuguese version was published in May 28, 2023

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