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5G espionage US upping pressure on Switzerland to drop Huawei technology

5G signal on phone

Strong signal: 5G technology is becoming more and more widespread in Switzerland.

(© Keystone / Ennio Leanza)

US authorities have contacted the Swiss foreign ministry several times in recent weeks to raise concerns about the security risks of using Huawei technology.

According to the SonntagsZeitung newspaper, the US embassy in Bern has confirmed that several conversations have recently taken place about 5G, Huawei, and the risk of espionage.

US authorities say Huawei is legally bound to hand over information to Chinese authorities, and that communications in various other countries – including Switzerland – are thus at risk.

“Allowing the use of Chinese telecommunications technology in the [Swiss] 5G network will lead to an unacceptable risk to national security, critical infrastructure, the private sphere, and human rights,” the US embassy was quoted as saying.

Unlike in Germany, which has also been warned by the US about using Chinese telecoms technology, the Swiss reaction continues to be tepid, the newspaper reports.

The foreign ministry confirmed that various discussions have taken place in the past months on the issue, but it denies having received any “concrete information about espionage”.

Trade war

Sunrise, one of the big three Swiss telecoms operators and the one most closely associated with Huawei in rolling out its 5G network, also said that no clear evidence has been found to suggest the Chinese technology is being used for other purposes.

Rather, Sunrise reiterated what the Swiss Reporting and Analysis Centre for Information Assurance (MELANI) wrote in its current half-year report: the Huawei issue is part of a wider trade battle between the US and China, now being fought out in other countries.

Whether this position by Swiss authorities can last is unclear, the SonntagsZeitung writes: it mentions the case of the Federal Institute of Technology ETH Zurich, which has allegedly ordered researchers not to use or contact Huawei when they are involved in projects that also use US-made technology.

Such conflicts of interest, driven by the fear of US sanctions, could also soon spread to Swiss businesses, MELANI has warned.

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