Huawei Files SLAPP Suits In France Against Critics Who Highlighted The Company's Ties To The Chinese Government

from the oh-come-on dept

We've spent many years pointing out that the freak out over Huawei equipment possibly being compromised by the Chinese government still remains without evidence to back it up. This does not mean that it's not there. But we've just noted that many (especially in the US) keep stating it as if it's factual, despite a Congressional investigation that turned up nothing (not to mention competitor Cisco fanning the flames of the attacks on Huawei, and the fact that the NSA is already known to compromise telco equipment for the US government). The usual response to pointing this out is to highlight that most large and successful Chinese companies have close relationships with the Chinese government (because they need to) and that Huawei's founder, Ren Zhengfei, was an engineer in the Chinese military. This is enough for many people to assume that the company would actively sabotage its own equipment to help the Chinese government.

As we've noted, there still is no actual evidence to prove this, though it's understandable why some might be cautious or concerned about it. Huawei insists that it has not backdoored its own equipment. No matter what you think about trusting Huawei equipment, hopefully everyone can agree that the company's decision to sue critics in France for pointing out the company's close relationship with the Chinese government, is an obnoxious SLAPP effort that should never have happened.

In an unprecedented move, the technology giant filed three defamation claims in Paris over comments made during television programs by a French researcher, a broadcast journalist and a telecommunications sector expert.

The company’s legal actions in France were published on Tuesday in a report by La Lettre A, an online investigative newsletter. Huawei confirmed the claims, which it said were filed with French law enforcement authorities in March.

The company is trying to defend these intimidation tactics by claiming that it only sued those critics who went too far and alleged that the company is actually controlled by the Chinese government:

Huawei said in a statement its claims “concern only statements that Huawei is a company controlled by the Chinese State and the Chinese Communist Party, led by a former member of the ‘counter-intelligence’ and using its technological expertise in telecom networks to commit acts of espionage against the Western world.” The company added that “these statements are false.”

If anything, this move seems likely to backfire, as it only calls much more attention to the accusations in the first place. It's fine for the company to rebut the claims, and to make efforts to demonstrate the security of its equipment. But filing defamation lawsuits against individuals over statements they made seems like an obvious intimidation tactic, rather than a legitimate way to engage on the controversial issues around how close the company is to the Chinese government and what that means for its equipment.

So far, it's not entirely clear exactly what statements Huawei is suing over, but the Bloomberg article quotes one example, which should not, in any way, rise to the level of defamation:

Valerie Niquet, a researcher at the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research that specializes in China and Japan, is a regular guest on French radio and television. Huawei filed the lawsuit after her comments in two television programs in February in which she said the company had ties to the state.

Niquet was informed of the claims in September and then in November when the police reached out to her to confirm her comments, according to copies of the authorities’ emails seen by Bloomberg.

Niquet said she confirmed her comments on TF1 television on Feb. 3, and similar remarks on France 5 television on Feb. 7. In those she alluded to the alleged control the Chinese state has over Huawei, also saying that “no one would have given a Soviet company the means to monitor all the communication in the Western world, and this is what we’re doing with Huawei.”

Even if you disagree with Niquet, it seems beyond ridiculous to then sue over such statements. Of course, now we'll have to wait and see how much France believes in sticking up for free speech on statements of opinion like those made by Niquet about Huawei.

Filed Under: china, chinese government, criticism, critics, defamation, france, free speech, slapp, slapp suit
Companies: huawei


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  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Nov 2019 @ 9:27am

    Is Masnick an attorney?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Nov 2019 @ 9:36am

    Wait wait wait... for something to be defamatory, it can't just be false, it has to harm the reputation.

    So... wouldn't Beijing be upset at Huawei for making the claim that Chinese government control is harmful to them?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Adam, 26 Nov 2019 @ 9:42am

      Re:

      My guess is that it's more the claim that the software they use is compromised by the Chinese gov't that is harmful, not the mere association with the gov't. But that is a slippery slope they're walking.
      If they are in fact under the control of the gov't, can they get mad at themselves?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 26 Nov 2019 @ 9:52am

      Re:

      According to the Law on the Freedom of the Press of 1881, in France, defamation is defined as: “… any allegation or imputation of an act affecting the honor or reputation of the person or body against whom it is made.”

      http://kellywarnerlaw.com/france-defamation-laws/

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 27 Nov 2019 @ 12:14pm

        Re: Re:

        France has one of the harshest libel law, so much for "liberté de la presse". Saying the truth is not enough to win in court. Holding grudge against a person is sufficient to lose. Not to mention that simple allegations of non-factual can also be punished as "public insults" by a different law. A website like techdirt would not last very long in France.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 26 Nov 2019 @ 11:26am

    Who helps Whom..Finger pointing.

    https://subsidytracker.goodjobsfirst.org/top-100-parents

    Top 100 Subsidies from our gov..

    https://www.thebalance.com/government-subsidies-definition-farm-oil-export-etc-3305788

    Between 1995 and 2010, farm subsidies had ballooned to $52 billion a year on average.

    The House budget also proposed $180 billion in cuts to the farm subsidy program. But $133 billion of the cuts were to the food stamp program, affecting 8 million consumers, not farmers.

    In March 2012, President Obama called for an end to the $4 billion in oil industry subsidies. Some estimates indicated that the real level of oil industry subsidies is higher, between $10 and $40 billion. At the same time, oil company profits benefited when oil prices reached a record of $145 a barrel in 2008.

    The WTO bans export subsidies. But it allows two U.S. federal government export subsidy programs. They help U.S. farmers compete with other countries' subsidized exports.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corporate_welfare

    Lots to read.
    And there are still facts not covered.
    Like the USA is trying to Force Britain into buying Chicken from the USA,...Even tho the Brits dont like Bleached chicken.
    That over 60% of our grain crops are exported..For many reasons.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    ANANONANA, 26 Nov 2019 @ 11:56am

    We should probably be as worried about US backdoors as Chinese

    I would never argue that there shouldn't concerns about Chinese hardware but those same concerns should also exist about US hardware.

    The NSA and CIA have shown very little compunction about limiting their interception and surveillance capabilities and we've had several examples of them compromising end user security in order to benefit their spying programs.

    But of course like many of these things what is good for the goose is not good for the gander.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 26 Nov 2019 @ 12:26pm

      Re:

      That’s a fine whatabout there bro. In a “completely unrelated” conversation. Do you happen to know the generic catchphrase for Chinese people? Like Ivan for paid Russian trolls?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        anymouse, 29 Nov 2019 @ 12:57am

        Re: Re:

        50-cent army is old one for paid commentators, and mainlander is common one now (including literal translation) for people that buy what PRC is selling.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 29 Nov 2019 @ 5:07am

        Re: Re:

        "That’s a fine whatabout there bro."

        It's not, really.

        Huawei's hardware has been vetted by both the US government, european government, and several NGO security organizations.

        And the net result, as adopted by the US is that the only sign Huwei routers are backdoored is the same sign which exists in Cisco and Asus routers as well. Namely that there are no backdoors now but a firmware update could conceivably insert one.

        This, incidentally, is easily cured. Irrespective of what router you buy, always flash it with open source firmware. Your security hole is now patched.

        The only one still claiming Huawei's products are backdoored or insecure is the Trump White House - which keeps doing so in direct contradiction to the facts. Again.

        The real reason Huawei is under sanction is simple. 5G is around the corner, every network will need a shit-ton of new routers and signal repeaters...and Trump wanted cisco to own that business.
        Then, as it turns out, no US company has the ability to cover the business at hand so next thing Trump does is he goes to Sweden and asks the PM to secure against chinese tampering because ericsson is going to get a few huge US orders.

        There's nothing new here. The trumpster is sanctioning Huawei because of standard old-style protectionism. While claiming whatever convenient smokescreen lets him get away with it.
        Amazing, since there have been rumors surrounding Huawei on the ethics of their business model for years and THOSE might have been a better case to investigate.

        The true irony here is that no matter who does the rollout of 5G pot odds are the majority of the hardware will STILL have been made in China.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 29 Nov 2019 @ 11:44am

          Re: Re: Re:

          That doesn't work. You need to get firmware that can't update then throw the thing out if the firmware has a flaw in it.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 3 Dec 2019 @ 2:35am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            "That doesn't work. You need to get firmware that can't update then throw the thing out if the firmware has a flaw in it."

            ...essentially you just made the case that 95% of the routers on the market are unacceptable.

            Not that I disagree with that statement, mind.

            If the hardware is compromised you're up shit creek. The firmware, however, can be replaced by an open source version which doesn't accept updates from <insert company names here>.

            OpenWrt, Tomato, DD-Wrt...there are plenty of solutions turning a cisco or huawei router into one which won't listen to the OEM when they decide a firmware update with RAT attached is required.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 3 Dec 2019 @ 6:27am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              If there is a key to update the firmware, then a persistent advanced adversary will be able to find it and flash the firmware to whatever it wants.

              I guess it is possible to make a hardware/software design that you can't flash again after you rewrite it a certain way but most chips aren't designed like that because then someone could just hack your machine and break it permanently with a malicious update. They are either designed so they can never reflash or they are designed so you can reflash whenever you want.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • icon
                Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 4 Dec 2019 @ 1:35am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                "If there is a key to update the firmware, then a persistent advanced adversary will be able to find it and flash the firmware to whatever it wants."

                Uh, yes, this is called "cracking" and is normally seen as being significantly harder(!) than already having a certificate on hand which the firmware will by default accept as valid.

                "They are either designed so they can never reflash or they are designed so you can reflash whenever you want."

                ...and once again, the issue with OEM firmware drivers is that they can be built to accept the OEM's own certificate as a passkey allowing that flash to happen.

                Open Source or proprietary firmware built not to accept a predefined certificate in advance does not possess this gaping hole.

                Are you seriously arguing that a vault door whose keys are exclusively in the owner's hands is not as safe as a vault door where the manufacturer has a skeleton key?

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Dec 2019 @ 7:49am

      Re: We should probably be as worried about US backdoors as Chine

      Indeed. The US is openly tampering with Canada Post shipments to Campobello Island, New Brunswick in-transit: www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-49901455

      The routing of non-US Internet traffic through the US is just as bad, and we're just as foolhardy to allow it. What if the shoe were on the other foot? If the only way to Hyder, Alaska overland were through Canada, the US Mail would be very promptly put on an aeroplane to bypass that little problem... and we need to keep that same attitude when it comes to telephone, e-mail and network traffic.

      I don't trust either the Americans or the mainland Chinese.

      And yes, the very real possibility that the technology in these products was in any part stolen by means such as the People's Liberation Army hack into Nortel is merely insult added to injury.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    frank87 (profile), 26 Nov 2019 @ 1:54pm

    Look out Huawei

    They forget the French divide the people in three categories:

    1. the French
    2. Francophones
    3. Other people.

    The first category is always right.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 26 Nov 2019 @ 7:27pm

    Warm and fuzzy

    A SLAPP suit just gives me such a warm fuzzy feeling about how Huawei is a good corporate citizen. I'm just all of a sudden so much more sure their equipment isn't backdoored, I can't hardly stand it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 27 Nov 2019 @ 1:17am

      Re: Warm and fuzzy

      "A SLAPP suit just gives me such a warm fuzzy feeling about how Huawei is a good corporate citizen. I'm just all of a sudden so much more sure their equipment isn't backdoored, I can't hardly stand it."

      Oh, I'm fairly sure their equipment isn't backdoored given how many technical NGO's and government organizations alike have gone through said equipment.

      Like ANY set of routers, however, a firmware update COULD be pushed to introduce a backdoor. This is as true for Huawei products as it is for, say, Cisco or Asus. Which is why point A of securing your network involves flashing your router with open source firmware which removes any forced updating from any other hands than your own.

      What this SLAPP proves, however, is that Huawei is much like many other companies who feel butthurt every time something comes out which could put them in a negative light.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    R/O/G/S, 4 Dec 2019 @ 9:08am

    re: Huawei being compromised by the Chinese government still remains without evidence to back it up

    Right.

    Tell that to your guy GLyn Moodie, from the “China bustin owr bawlz”conspiracy set.

    Huawei is only as compromised as any western phone, as we saw with the NSA “hack” of French chips (Gemalto affilliated phonesets) a few years ago.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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