Huawei sues the US government as tensions rise

Huawei has launched legal action against the US government. What happens next and what does it mean for the global tech industry?

Huawei has upped the ante significantly in its battle against the US government, this week launching a new legal case alleging the federal ban on its equipment is unconstitutional. Past experience, and the current geopolitical climate, tell us it won't have much success with this strategy. But it won't do anything to calm the jitters of Western tech CEOs with a large stake in China's domestic market, as tensions continue to rise between the two superpowers.

Kicking things off

The complaint filed in a US District Court in Plano, Texas, focuses on Section 889 of the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) signed by Donald Trump in August, which bans federal agencies from buying Huawei kit and from working with contractors who do. Huawei argues that it violates due process, as well as the Bill of Attainder clause in punishing the firm without a fair trial. The decision also violates the Separation-of-Powers principles of the constitution, because "Congress is both making the law, and attempting to adjudicate and execute it," the firm said.

Huawei argues that banning its equipment will hit US consumers hard, by delaying 5G, and stifling competition so that they ultimately pay higher prices for inferior products. But most importantly, it hits back at the assertion at the heart of the ban: that it would be compelled if required by the Chinese government to hand over or provide access to data flowing across its networks.

"Huawei is not owned, controlled, or influenced by the Chinese government. Moreover, Huawei has an excellent security record and program. No contrary evidence has been offered," said the firm's chief legal officer, Song Liuping.

Is Huawei right?

Some China-watchers may well be shaking their head at some of these comments. For one thing, GCHQ's National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has already found serious deficiencies in the firm's security processes which it says will take years to fix. "Last July, our annual Oversight Board downgraded the assurance we could provide to the UK government on mitigating the risks associated with Huawei because of serious problems with their security and engineering processes," said NCSC boss Ciaran Martin last month.

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