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Chinese tech firm Huawei had the capability to monitor all users of one of Netherlands’ largest mobile network providers and even eavesdrop on private conversations.
Back in 2010, Huawei could have been monitoring all KPN users and even eavesdropping on their calls, according to an article on de Volkskrant, a Dutch newspaper. The article cited a report by Capgemini, a consultancy firm hired by KPN.
The report claimed that even the former prime minister, Jan Peter Balkende, senior government officials, and Chinese dissidents could have been monitored by the Chinese tech firm. It also alleges that the tech firm had the ability to identify phone numbers that had been tapped by law enforcement and intelligence agencies. At the time, KPN’s mobile network had about 6.5 million users.
It seems the report was so damning that it was not made public.
“The continued existence of KPN Mobile is in serious jeopardy as licenses can be revoked or the government and businesses can relinquish their trust in KPN if it is known that the Chinese government can eavesdrop on KPN mobile numbers and shut down the network,” the report stated, according to de Volkskrant.
KPN did confirm the existence of the report. But the mobile network provider claimed that the purpose of the report was to determine the risks associated with Huawei, and insisted that Huawei did not have access to its mobile network to the extent alleged in de Volkskrant’s story. The company added that Capgemini’s report was not able to determine whether Huawei monitored or collected data on KPN mobile users.
“No supplier of KPN has ‘unauthorized, uncontrolled or unlimited’ access to our networks and systems, or is capable of eavesdropping on KPN clients,” a spokesperson for KPN said.
“In all years, we have never observed that Huawei took client information,” the spokesperson continued. “Partly on the basis of risk analysis in question, KPN at the time decided not to outsource full maintenance of its core mobile network.”
Huawei, which is KPN’s main supplier of 3G and 4G mobile networks equipment, also denied the allegations. The COO of Huawei Netherlands, Gert-Jan van Eck, described the allegations by de Volkskrant as “completely not credible.”
“Since we began in the Netherlands 15 years ago, we have never been accused by government bodies of acting in an unauthorized way,” Huawei added.
Capgemini declined to comment on the story, citing client confidentiality.
Dutch legislators, across the political spectrum, have called on the government to do something about the alleged espionage by Huawei on KPN mobile users.
The concerns are rational considering Huawei is a Chinese firm, which could be obligated by Beijing to collect data and users, and provide that data to the government for national security reasons. Additionally, Huawei is rumored to be owned by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Concerns about Huawei were raised by former President Trump’s administration, which urged US allies to stop using the Chinese firm’s technology because of security and espionage concerns. Many countries , including the Netherlands and the UK, ditched Huawei as the 5G network infrastructure contractor.