Politics

Spies hedge on Huawei, highlight rise in racism reports

Kiwi spy bosses talk about the threat to New Zealand in the wake of March 15, and how other countries' stances on Huawei will affect our own position.

New Zealand’s spy agencies have been dealing with a rise in reports of Kiwis with racist and extremist views following the March 15 terror attack, senior MPs have been told.

Spy bosses have also shed light on New Zealand’s stance towards Huawei, after the United Kingdom’s decision to allow the Chinese telecommunications company into its 5G network.

Speaking to Parliament’s intelligence and security committee on Wednesday, NZ Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS) director-general Rebecca Kitteridge and Government Communications Security Bureau director-general Andrew Hampton outlined their agencies’ increased workloads in the wake of March 15.

Kitteridge said the NZSIS had received 455 “pieces of lead information” in the three months following the attack, with many of those related to people who had expressed racist, Nazi, identitarian, or white supremacist views.

While not all of those had resulted in action, there had been between 30 and 50 people under active investigation by the NZSIS in the last year, she said.

"[The terror attack] has given encouragement to some people, it has been inspirational to other people, so it remains quite a fluid picture."

Speaking to media after a closed-doors session with politicians, Kitteridge said she could not comment on the nature of any threats but said “we don't see anything that should cause people to worry about just going about their daily lives”.

“If they were ever to see specific attack planning, we would be working with police immediately to disrupt that."

Hampton hush-hush on new Huawei bid

Hampton also spoke to media about Huawei’s role in 5G networks, after the GCSB rejected a Spark proposal as part of the Telecommunications Interception Capability and Security Act (TICSA) to include the Chinese company in its plans.

New Zealand’s position has come under increased scrutiny in recent months, with a number of like-minded nations softening their position on Huawei’s role in 5G networks.

Last month, the United Kingdom announced that Huawei would be allowed to build the “fringe” of its 5G networks but not the core, a decision that reportedly attracted the ire of US President Donald Trump.

On Wednesday (NZT), a strategy paper produced by German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union also stopped short of an outright ban on Huawei technology in the country’s 5G rollout, although it proposed a block on “untrustworthy” companies believed to be subject to state influence.

Following the UK’s decision, Huawei NZ’s deputy managing director Andrew Bowater said the company would contact government ministers to directly make the case for a reconsideration.

However, Hampton would not confirm whether Spark had made a new or amended TICSA application to use Huawei technology, citing both national security and commercial confidentiality grounds.

“These are businesses who are giving their proposals to us: the only reason that we ended up talking publicly about Spark’s earlier notification, which they've subsequently withdrawn, is because they put it into the public arena.”

“I think what everyone accepts is with 5G, the distinction between the core, which are the sensitive parts of the network, and the edge, which are the non-sensitive parts, has become really blurry - indeed, that's intentional."

While New Zealand’s spy agencies received intelligence and technical advice from their partners, the country was in a unique position given its pre-existing laws.

“The difference between us and [the UK] though is we have an established legal framework by which we work this through. There’s not a requirement for New Zealand to come to a national position on these matters because we already have legislation which allows us to do it on a case-by-case basis.”

Hampton said he would not comment in detail about the UK’s position, but in subsequent remarks appeared to cast some doubt on the core/fringe delineation made by the country in allowing Huawei to play a role.

“I think what everyone accepts is with 5G, the distinction between the core, which are the sensitive parts of the network, and the edge, which are the non-sensitive parts, has become really blurry - indeed, that's intentional…

“Can you isolate particular parts of the core from parts of the edge and say that they're not sensitive? Well, that's really a technical issue.

“It's for New Zealand's network operators to come to us with a proposal saying, ‘We think we've found a way to manage those risks’ and we'll look at it on its merits.”

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