Berlin’s Preliminary 5G Decision - Limiting Damage and Learning Lessons

Despite the security concerns of the US, EU, and Australia, Germany plans not to exclude any telecom equipment vendors, including Chinese com- panies such as Huawei, from its 5G network. This stance reflects a narrow view of the issue that prioritizes short-term economic interests and fails to uphold national security and democratic values. Widespread criticism, including from within the government, shows that political decision-mak- ers in Germany need a more sophisticated, forward-looking approach to 5G.

Von Kaan Sahin und Didi Kirsten Tatlow

In mid-October 2019, the Federal Chancellery effectively decided not to ban Huawei or any other vendor from Germany’s 5G network. This preliminary decision has sparked the fiercest debate yet on how Germany should handle not only China’s 5G technology, but also – the debate’s true target – China’s increasing global power in the technology sector. Despite serious trust and espionage concerns surrounding Chinese technology firms, which are obliged by China’s National Intelligence Law of 2017 to “support, assist, and co-operate in national intelligence work” and to “guard the secrecy” of such work, the government says they should not be excluded from future networks, including critical national infrastructure.

The controversy began in March 2019, when the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel – including the Federal Network Agency (Bundesnetzagentur, BNetzA) – issued a draft of a so-called 5G “security catalog.” This draft signaled that Germany did not plan to categorically exclude any vendor from providing critical network components for its fifth-generation cellular network technology. The Federal Office for Information Security (Bundesamt für Sicherheit in der Informationstechnik, BSI) and the BNetzA were then tasked with further evaluating risks associated with 5G suppliers.

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