Report: Authoritarian Governments Use Huawei Technology To Censor Journalists

Report finds 17 countries use Chinese telecom giant's hardware for censorship

The Huawei logo is seen on a communications device in London, Britain
December 2, 2021

Authoritarian governments use Huawei's technology to censor journalists, according to an internet freedom watchdog.

Researchers at Top10VPN determined that 17 of the 69 countries studied use the Chinese telecom giant's hardware to enforce censorship laws. Cuba uses Huawei's "middlebox" devices to censor stories that criticize the country's communist regime. In Burundi, the government blocks media outlets that have criticized the president. Fifteen other countries use Huawei hardware specifically to censor news, the report found.

Huawei is deeply embedded in internet networks across the world, particularly in countries with close economic ties to China. Huawei's founder is a member of the Chinese Communist Party. Through its Belt and Road Initiative, China has pushed to integrate technology from state-backed companies like Huawei into foreign networks. Huawei's involvement in censorship regimes suggests China is finding common ground with authoritarians across the globe.

In an interview with the Committee to Protect Journalists, report authors Valentin Weber and Vasilis Ververis warn that Huawei's tools could also be used to violate user privacy. The pair said it is unclear where user data are sent after they reach Huawei middleboxes. But Ververis, a cybersecurity researcher at Oxford, said he "would not be surprised if that data was being sold or analyzed."

A comparison of this report with Weber's 2019 report found that 9 of the 17 countries that use Huawei tools to censor news have adopted them since 2019.

Huawei has become a political flashpoint in the United States. Lawmakers worry that allowing the company to operate on American soil could give the Chinese government access to U.S. citizens' data. Both the Trump and Biden administrations placed Huawei on a blacklist.

Financial disclosures show that Huawei has since August paid Democratic consultant Tony Podesta $500,000 to rehabilitate the company's image in Washington.