In July, senior lawmakers on U.S. intelligence committees raised concerns that Chinese telecommunications conglomerate, Huawei, was a “grave cybersecurity risk,” and that “its smartphones and equipment should not be used by Canada and other Western allies.”
In the spring of 2016, the University of Toronto consecrated a $3 million partnership with Huawei to “support a range of diverse projects, from optimized cloud computing to building next-generation Internet structures.” The partnership will continue to foster research and development for Huawei technology at the University of Toronto until 2020.
Recently, Australia joined the United States in banning Huawei from its 5G mobile networks due to “national security concerns.” Both the U.S. and Australia, along with Canada, the U.K., and New Zealand, are members of an intelligence-sharing network known as the Five Eyes.
In recent weeks, Canada has fallen under mounting pressure to respond to fears of Huawei as a potential cybersecurity threat. Under Chinese law established by the country’s ruling party, companies must “support, co-operate with, and collaborate in national intelligence work.” Security experts in the U.S. and Canada warn that equipment produced by firms such as Huawei could be compromised and may serve as a backchannel for China’s national intelligence service, which brings up serious surveillance violations.
These concerns come as post-secondary institutions across Canada secure funding for research and development projects focused on developing a 5G mobile network, which promises near-broadband speeds to smartphones and enable breakthrough technologies such as driverless cars. To date, Huawei has committed nearly $50 million to thirteen Canadian post-secondary institutions to develop the 5G mobile networks, including the University of Toronto, the University of Waterloo, McGill University and the University of British Columbia. In more than 40 cases, Canadian university professors have transferred full rights of their inventions to Huawei.
Vivek Goel, U of T’s VP Research and Innovation, commented on the U of T partnership with Huawei in an email with The Medium. The exchange was facilitated by the university’s media relations’ team.
“Since signing the partnership agreement, Huawei has supported dozens of U of T projects involving more than 30 principal investigators and their trainees,” said Goel. “Such partnerships boost opportunities for innovation and education by providing researchers and students with tools, technologies, and data that might otherwise be inaccessible.”
Goel emphasized the university’s commitment to operating within Canada’s legal framework. “U of T works with individuals or organizations that are legally operating in Canada. We will respect any direction that we receive from the Government of Canada with respect to national security.”
In an article for The Globe and Mail, two former directors of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS)—Richard Fadden and Ward Elcock—as well as John Adams, the former head of the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), advocated for a ban to exclude Huawei from supplying equipment for a 5G network in Canada.
They have also supported a cessation of involvement on the part of Canadian universities in developing Huawei technology.
CSE representative Erin Koronewski informed The Medium that the agency’s Security Review program does not “monitor, test or evaluate academic research projects between Canadian universities and individual corporate firms.” Koronewski further added that the CSE is, nevertheless, mandated to test products manufactured by Huawei that may find their way into Canadian markets.
“As part of its cyber security mandate, the Communications Security Establishment works with telecommunications service providers representing over 99 per cent of Canadian subscribers.” Koronewski continued. “In this role, CSE provides advice and guidance to mitigate supply chain risks in telecommunications infrastructures which Canadians rely on.”
“Since 2013, the Security Review program has been in place to test and evaluate designated equipment and services considered for use on Canadian 3G and 4G/LTE networks, including Huawei equipment.”
Huawei is presently the largest manufacturer of telecommunications equipment in the world and the third largest manufacturer of smartphones.
Huawei Canada did not respond to The Medium’s request for comment as of press time.