Report Indicates Greater Huawei Involvement in Surveillance
December 16, 2021
The Chinese telecom giant Huawei has consistently claimed it does not
actively partner with the Chinese government in gathering intelligence
on individuals within China, but a report by The Washington Post this
week showing the company appears to have marketed surveillance
technology to government customers calls the company’s assertions into
The report comes as major parts of the large company’s operations remain
severely restricted by sanctions imposed by the United States under
former President Donald Trump, which were renewed, and in some cases
tightened, by President Joe Biden.
The newspaper obtained more than 100 PowerPoint presentations that were
briefly posted to a public page of the company’s website. The trove of
documents suggests the company was marketing various
surveillance-related services, including voice recognition technology,
location tracking and facial-recognition-based area surveillance.
The presentations indicate the company also marketed systems meant to
monitor prisons, like those in which China is currently believed to be
holding an untold number of Uyghurs in the Western province of Xinjiang.
The system tracked prisoners’ labor productivity, as well as their time
spent in reeducation classes and data that might indicate the
effectiveness of those classes.
Additionally, the materials appeared to market workplace surveillance
tools, meant to monitor employees' workplace performance and to spot
workers who spend time resting or using personal electronics on the
In a statement provided to VOA, a Huawei spokesperson said, “Huawei has
no knowledge of the projects mentioned in The Washington Post report.”
It continued, “Like all other major service providers, Huawei provides
cloud platform services that comply with common industry standards.
Huawei does not develop or sell systems that target any specific group
of people and we require our partners comply with all applicable laws,
regulations and business ethics. Privacy protection is our top priority
and we require that all parts of our business comply with all applicable
laws and regulations in the countries and regions where we operate.”
The Post, in its article, noted the company’s official watermark
appeared on the pages of the PowerPoint presentation, and that several
included a page noting a “Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd.” copyright.
Electronic security experts said the revelation of the PowerPoint
presentations linking Huawei to state security wasn't surprising,
despite the company’s denials.
“Huawei has been closely linked to the security services from the
start,” Jim Lewis, senior vice president and director of the Strategic
Technologies Program at the Center for Strategic and International
Studies, told VOA.
Lewis said the warnings about the company have been coming from American
officials since George W. Bush was president but had not been taken
seriously until the past few years, when China became more aggressive
about asserting itself on the world stage.
“What's changed is the audience,” Lewis said. Between China's and
[Chinese President] Xi Jinping’s behavior, people are willing to hear
now about the problems with Huawei in a way they weren't before.”
The United States has, for several years, been warning that Huawei
represents a security risk to the interests of the U.S. and its allies.
Despite the company’s claims to the contrary, U.S. officials say they
believe the company has close ties to Chinese state security agencies
and that its telecommunications products could be used to gather
information on, or disrupt the activities of, China’s rivals.
Officials also point to a law in China that obligates private companies
to cooperate with government agencies in the collection of data deemed
important to state security.
In 2019 and 2020, the U.S. began aggressively moving against Huawei on a
number of fronts.
The Trump administration fought against the company’s effort to market
the networking equipment necessary to roll out 5G wireless technology.
5G is the next generation of mobile connectivity and is expected to
greatly enhance the ability of internet-connected devices to
communicate, facilitating everything from self-driving vehicles to
The U.S. declared, among other things, it would cease sharing
intelligence with allies who allow Huawei to supply critical pieces of
their nations’ telecommunications infrastructure, arguing the company
presented too much of a security risk.
As a result, a number of countries have barred the company’s technology
from their 5G systems and others, including Britain, have begun the
expensive process of removing Huawei equipment that already had been
Until recently, Huawei was one of the biggest sellers of smartphones in
the world and enjoyed near-complete dominance in the Chinese market.
Other sanctions levied against the company, however, have severely
damaged that business.
The U.S. barred firms from licensing or selling the company technology
critical to some of its products. That included Google, which in 2019
said it would no longer license its Android operating system — the
world’s most popular — for use in new phones made by the company.
and Qualcomm, two major makers of microchips, were banned from selling
their most advanced technology to Huawei. The ban extended to contract
chipmakers, like Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp., the world’s
The result has been a drastic decline in the sale of Huawei smartphones,
both globally and within China.
“The core of their devices business was smartphones, and their market
share has just continued to decline,” Ryan Reith, a vice president with
International Data Corporation, told VOA.
Reith said the prospects for recovery do not look good for the company’s
“We don't see any way that the brand itself turns around,” he said. “So,
it's probably on its way out.”