UK to give spy agency greater role at Huawei cyber centre

LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Tuesday an internal review had shown the government needed to enhance its oversight of a cyber security centre in southern England run by Chinese telecoms firm Huawei. Huawei supplies software and equipment which channels phone calls and data around Britain, but has found itself at the centre of a debate, particularly in the United States, over whether it is a risk for governments to allow foreign suppliers access to their networks. The British government ordered a review of Huawei's cyber security centre in July after parliament's intelligence committee said UK security checks were "insufficiently robust" when Huawei began working on the country's network through contracts with companies such as BT in 2005. Cameron said in a written statement to parliament on Tuesday that his national security adviser had concluded the government should enhance its oversight of the Huawei facility and that the GCHQ spy agency should take a leading role in future senior appointments there. Huawei, the world's second biggest telecoms gear maker, opened the cyber security centre, known as The Cell, in southern England in 2010 to test the security of its software and hardware to ensure that they didn't expose Britain's network to outside hacking or spying. The review by the government's National Security Adviser Kim Darroch said the centre was operating effectively and it was sufficiently independent from Huawei's headquarters. But he added that GCHQ could be more involved in assessing its performance and in verifying its continuing independence. Huawei, which has always denied wrongdoing and said its work is secure, welcomed Cameron's statement. "We support the review's recommendations to optimise the management of the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre (HCSEC) and will continue to work with stakeholders to improve its capabilities," the company said. Darroch also said government ministers should have a greater say in assessing the security implications of developments in the telecommunications industry, addressing an oversight when BT awarded Huawei a multi-billion pound contract to upgrade its network. The intelligence committee had said in July that parliamentarians were not made aware of the deal until 2006, despite officials being informed two years before it was awarded, which it said was an "unacceptable" lapse. To that end, Darroch said Huawei's cyber security centre was "a model for government collaboration with the private sector" in its understanding of the fast-moving nature of the industry. (Reporting by William James and Paul Sandle; Editing by Andrew Osborn and David Evans)