Chinese Supplier Raises Eyebrows in U.K.'s Filtering Plan

Bob Johnson

LONDON — Some concern is mounting in the U.K. about Chinese firm Huawei that supplies Internet filtering software to British ISPs.

After Prime Minster David Cameron lauded major ISP TalkTalk’s recently adopted Huawei-supplied HomeSurf filtering system in his speech last week outlining the country’s opt-out plan for Internet users, ZDNet reported that there’s now worry over security and censorship issues because of Huawei’s ties to the Chinese government.

Cameron said his government reached an agreement with BT, TalkTalk, Virgin and Sky that would have the ISPs install 'family-friendly' default-on filters by the end of 2013.

TalkTalk adopted Huawei's HomeSafe filter in 2011 after having integrating the firm's Service Intelligence Gateway (SIG) product into its network as part of a wider home security service also aimed at filtering malware, porn, gambling and other questionable sites.

In its promotional documentation Huawei says, "SIG boasts a library of over 65 million URLs in 43 categories, which operators can customize as required.”

But the dust up now stems from privacy risks because the HomeSafe system scans and stores URLs visited by users. And Huawei's U.K. staff is reportedly able to decide which sites TalkTalk's filter blocks. The company however told ZDNet that TalkTalk operates HomeSafe and that Huawei does not "control" the system.

The company maintained that Huawei and TalkTalk are able to make changes on behalf of the customer to ensure the system's security.

"Huawei have been a partner of ours for a number of years, as they have been for most of the British telecommunications industry. We value our partnership with Huawei who have helped us bring great value phone and broadband to this country," TalkTalk said in a statement.

According to ZDNet, the U.K. government earlier this month announced it would be reviewing security at a Huawei center to ascertain if there are any credible security risks.