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National security agencies consulted over 5G network

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JT held discussions with two of the UK’s national security agencies – GCHQ and the National Cyber Security Centre – before signing a 5G network contract with a major Chinese telecoms firm, it has been revealed.

GCHQ (22985220)

Last month, bosses from JT travelled to Shenzhen, in south-east China, to finalise a deal with ZTE.

The agreement will see the two companies work together to create a 5G network – expected to be around ten times faster than Jersey’s existing 4G technology.

However, several countries have placed restrictions on some Chinese telecommunications companies or banned them altogether, citing data security fears.

In August, President Donald Trump signed a defence policy bill that prevents his government from buying certain telecommunications and video-surveillance equipment from ZTE, Huawei and a handful of other Chinese communications companies.

Around the same time, Australia banned Huawei and ZTE from providing 5G mobile technology in the country.

And yesterday, the head of MI6, Alex Younger, questioned whether Chinese firms should be involved in the roll-out of 5G networks.

In an article published by The Times, he said: ‘We need to decide the extent to which we are going to be comfortable with Chinese ownership of these technologies and these platforms in an environment where some of our allies have taken quite a definite position.

‘We need to have a conversation – this is a non-trivial issue. It is one that needs to be worked through.’

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On Monday, during this week’s States sitting, Senator Sarah Ferguson asked if JT had been aware of the security concerns before signing a contract with ZTE. Responding on behalf of Treasury Minister Susie Pinel, Assistant Treasury Minister Lindsay Ash said that discussions had been held with two of the UK’s national security agencies before the deal was struck.

‘Detailed discussions and meetings took place with the UK government’s General Communications Headquarters, GCHQ as it is known, in Cheltenham, and the National Cyber Security Centre, NCSC, prior to signing agreements with ZTE – who are the Chinese provider in question,’ he said. ‘This was done in 2014 and, as matters have developed, these updates have continued. The content of these discussions will obviously remain confidential, but the advice given was fully taken on board by Jersey Telecom.’

JT released a statement yesterday stating that they had security measures in place that could be used if necessary.

However, they did not say what these were or in what situations they might be needed.

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‘ZTE has provided JT’s mobile network infrastructure since 2014, as they do for many international telecom firms, and the 5G contract is an extension of that arrangement.

‘Detailed discussions took place with the relevant UK authorities prior to signing agreements with ZTE in 2014 and as matters have developed these updates have continued,’ the statement said.

‘JT takes its position as the provider of critical national infrastructure extremely seriously and has protections and mitigations in place in the event that they are required.’

Ed Taylor

By Ed Taylor
Journalist

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