The Pentagon banned the sale of Huawei and ZTE phones on military bases on Wednesday and while the devices are not sold on Canadian bases, federal officials are saying little about whether they share American fears the devices could be used to spy on soldiers.
As the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday, the Pentagon ordered military retail shops to stop carrying phones made by Huawei Technologies Inc. and ZTE Corp.
Both are Chinese companies and security experts have raised concerns in recent years that Beijing could order the firms to spy on the communications of people using the devices in the U.S. or disable parts of them entirely.
While both firms have denied that could happen, the Pentagon says the potential risk is “unacceptable.”
A spokesperson for the Canadian Forces confirmed to Global News that neither Huawei nor ZTE devices are sold by retailers on Canadian military bases around the world.
However, they also said there is no ban on the potential for them to be sold.
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“While no such ban is currently being considered, the Department of National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces maintains a rigid and comprehensive Emission Security (EMSEC) program, which properly manages EMCSEC for DND/CAF sites in Canada and abroad,” said Daniel Lebouthillier in an email.
“For instance, we maintain and enforce specific areas/zones where classified information might be discussed/worked on that completely prohibit electronic devices.”
Lebouthillier also stressed the military takes security concerns “extremely seriously” and referred questions on security assessments of any identified risks posed by the brands to Public Safety Canada.
Huawei and ZTE are both global brands that sell their products around the world.
But earlier this year, Congress heard from the CIA, NSA, FBI and the Defense Intelligence Agency that Americans should not use phones by the brands because of the risk they could be spied on by the Chinese.
In March, three former heads of Canadian security agencies — Ward Elcock, John Adams and Richard Fadden — urged the government here to also cut ties with Huawei.
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The company has become increasingly entwined with telecom network development in Canada as a key supplier of parts to Bell, Telus and Rogers Communications Inc.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has insisted the technology is safe to use.
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When asked to clarify whether the government has evidence contradicting the American concerns about the potential for the Chinese devices to be used for spying, Goodale’s office provided a statement previously shared with media outlets that have asked similar questions.
“The government of Canada is aware of the concerns and takes the security of its critical infrastructure very seriously,” said Scott Bardsley, press secretary to Goodale.
“While we cannot provide details on specific companies, products or providers, the Communications Security Establishment provides advice and guidance on information technology security to the government of Canada, including equipment manufacturers that are part of the Canadian supply chain. CSE also shares security advice and guidance with the private sector owners and operators of Canada’s critical information infrastructures.”
Bardsley continued, adding that the government keeps a close eye on threats.
“Canadians can be assured that the government works diligently to monitor for security threats and that there are measures in place to protect Canada’s systems.”
Military and security leaders have previously been faced with questions around how to address security threats posed by technologies and devices used by some members.
Earlier this year, the locations of sensitive military bases and activities around the world were revealed by Strava, a fitness tracking app that let users record and share information about their physical activities.
A data visualization map showing those activities allowed anyone viewing them to see exercise patterns such as run routes and also to zoom in on many of the internal layouts of military bases.
While the Canadian Forces already had a directive in place requiring members deployed abroad to turn off geolocation on their phones — which was used to create the map of Strava user activity — the revelation prompted American officials to launch a review of their own practices.
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