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UK telcos face £100,000-a-day fines for infrastructure security breaches

Jasper Hart
November 24, 2020

Fine intended to ensure maximum Huawei strip-out

UK telcos could fines of up to £100,000 per day if they do not comply with new rules aimed at securing the UK’s telecoms infrastructure, according to new legislation.

The Telecoms Security Bill, which the government is set to present to Parliament today (November 24), will also give Ofcom new powers to enforce monitor network operators’ security and compliance.

It proposes a maximum fine of up to 10 per cent of turnover, or £100,000 per day “in the case of a continuing contravention”. It is not clear when the fines would come into force.

“We are investing billions to roll out 5G and gigabit broadband across the country, but the benefits can only be realised if we have full confidence in the security and resilience of our networks,” said Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden.

“This groundbreaking bill will give the UK one of the toughest telecoms security regimes in the world and allow us to take the action necessary to protect our networks.”

The Financial Times reports that the bill is an attempt to stop providers from using stockpiled Huawei kit in their infrastructure, and is a tightening of restrictions following the ban on Huawei equipment from earlier this year.

The bill would allow the government to make specific security requirements for all providers to follow. Under current rules, telecoms providers are responsible for their own security standards.

However, according to last year’s Telecoms Supply Chain Review, they have not had enough incentive to adopt the best security practices.

The bill would also give Ofcom stronger powers to monitor operators and enforce their compliance with the new rules. These would include technical testing, interviewing staff, and entering operators’ premises to view documents.

“Network security and resilience have always been a top priority for the UK’s mobile network operators,” said Hamish MacLeod, director of the network operators’ industry body Mobile UK. “We support the framework for the Telecoms Security Bill and will continue to work closely with the government to ensure the objectives of the Bill are fulfilled and to build on the already robust security measures mobile operators have in place.”

Huawei vice president Victor Zhang called the decision “politically motivated”, saying it was not based on “a fair evaluation of the risks”.

“It does not serve anyone’s best interests as it would move Britain into the digital slow lane and put at risk the government’s levelling up agenda.”

The embattled Chinese vendor has commissioned three independent reports since its ban outlining the alleged negative effects on the UK’s economy in the event of its exclusion from infrastructure.

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