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Huawei Said to Be Under Probe in US Over Concerns of Capturing Sensitive Information From Military Bases

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By Reuters | Updated: 22 July 2022

The Biden administration is investigating Chinese telecoms equipment maker Huawei over concerns that the US cell towers fitted with its gear could capture sensitive information from military bases and missile silos that the company could then transmit to China, two people familiar with the matter said.

Authorities are concerned Huawei could obtain sensitive data on military drills and the readiness status of bases and personnel via the equipment, one of the people said, requesting anonymity because the investigation is confidential and involves national security.

The previously unreported probe was opened by the Commerce Department shortly after Joe Biden took office early last year, the sources said, following the implementation of rules to flesh out a May 2019 executive order that gave the agency the investigative authority.

The agency subpoenaed Huawei in April 2021 to learn the company’s policy on sharing data with foreign parties that its equipment could capture from cell phones, including messages and geolocational data, according to the 10-page document seen by Reuters.

The Commerce Department said it could not “confirm or deny ongoing investigations.” It added that, “protecting US persons’ safety and security against malign information collection is vital to protecting our economy and national security.”

Huawei did not respond to a request for comment. The company has strongly denied the US government allegations that it could spy on the US customers and poses a national security threat.

The Chinese embassy in Washington did not respond to the specific allegations. In an emailed statement, it said, “The US government abuses the concept of national security and state power to go all out to suppress Huawei and other Chinese telecommunications companies without providing any solid proof that they constitute a security threat to the US and other countries.”

Reuters could not determine what actions the agency might take against Huawei.

Eight current and former US government officials said the probe reflects lingering national security concerns about the company, which was already hit with a slew of the US restrictions in recent years.

If the Commerce Department determines Huawei poses a national security threat, it could go beyond existing restrictions imposed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the US telecoms regulator.

Using broad new powers created by the Trump administration, the agency could ban all the US transactions with Huawei, demanding the US telecoms carriers that still rely on its gear quickly remove it, or face fines or other penalties, a number of lawyers, academics and former officials interviewed by Reuters said.

The FCC declined to comment.

US-China Tech War

Huawei has long been dogged by the US government allegations it could spy on the US customers, though authorities in Washington have made little evidence public. The company denies the allegations.

“If Chinese companies like Huawei are given unfettered access to our telecommunications infrastructure, they could collect any of your information that traverses their devices or networks,” FBI Director Christopher Wray warned in a speech in 2020. “Worse still: They’d have no choice but to hand it over to the Chinese government, if asked.”

Reuters could not determine if Huawei’s equipment is capable of collecting that sort of sensitive information and providing it to China.

“If you can stick a receiver on a (cellphone) tower, you can collect signals and that means you can get intelligence. No intelligence agency would pass an opportunity like that,” said Jim Lewis, a technology and cybersecurity expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington DC-based think tank.

One move to address the perceived threat was a 2019 law and related rules forbidding the US companies from using federal subsidies to buy telecoms equipment from Huawei. It also tasked the FCC with compelling US carriers that receive federal subsidies to purge their networks of Huawei equipment, in return for reimbursement.

But the so-called “rip and replace” deadline to remove and destroy Huawei equipment completely will not kick in until mid-2023 at the earliest, with additional opportunities for companies to seek extensions. And reimbursements will only reach 40 percent of the total requested for now.

Towers near missile silos

Cell towers equipped with Huawei gear that are close to sensitive military and intelligence sites have become a particular concern for the US authorities, according to the two sources and an FCC commissioner.

Brendan Carr, one of the FCC’s five commissioners, said that cellphone towers around Montana’s Malmstrom Air Force Base — one of three that oversee missile fields in the United States — ran on Huawei technology.

In an interview this week, he told Reuters there was a risk that data from smartphones obtained by Huawei could reveal troop movements near the sites. “There’s a very real concern that some of that technology could be used as an early warning system if there happened to be, God forbid, an ICBM missile strike.”

Reuters was unable to determine the exact location or scope of Huawei equipment operating near military facilities. Individuals interviewed by Reuters pointed to at least two other likely cases in Nebraska and Wyoming.

Crystal Rhoades, a commissioner at Nebraska’s telecoms regulator, has flagged to media the risk posed by the proximity of cell towers owned by Viaero to intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) silos in the western part of the state.

ICBMs carry nuclear warheads to targets thousands of miles away and are stored in underground silos near military bases. The Nebraska cell towers are near a missile field overseen by FE Warren Air Force Base in neighboring Wyoming.

Viaero provides mobile telephone and wireless broadband services to about 110,000 customers in the region. It said in a 2018 filing to the FCC opposing the commission’s efforts at curbing Huawei’s expansion that approximately 80 percent of its equipment was manufactured by the Chinese firm.

That gear could potentially enable Huawei to glean sensitive information about the sites, Rhoades told Reuters in June.

“An enemy state could potentially see when things are online, when things are offline, the level of security, how many people are on duty in any given building where there are really dangerous and sophisticated weapons,” Rhoades said.

Rhoades said in July that she had not been updated on rip and replace efforts by Viaero in more than two years, despite requesting updated information from the company in recent weeks.

At the time of last contact, the company said it would not begin removal efforts until the FCC money became available.

The FCC advised companies on Monday how much of their funding requests it can reimburse.

Viaero did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Huawei also declined to comment.

In Wyoming, then CEO of rural carrier Union Wireless, John Woody, said in a 2018 interview with Reuters that the company’s coverage area included ICBM silos near the FE Warren Air Force Base and that its equipment included Huawei switches, routers and cell sites.

Last month, Eric Woody, John’s son and acting CEO, said “virtually all the Huawei gear Union purchased remains in our network.” He declined to say whether the towers close to the sensitive military sites contain Huawei equipment.

FE Warren Air Force Base referred comment on the Huawei equipment to the Pentagon. The United States Strategic Command, which is responsible for nuclear operations, said in a statement to Reuters, “We maintain constant awareness of activities near our installations and sites.” It noted that “any concerns are on a whole of government level” but declined to provide further details on what those concerns are.

New powers against foreign adversaries

Rick Sofield, a former DOJ official in the national security division who reviewed telecoms transactions, said the Commerce Department probe could give additional bite to the FCC’s crackdown but there was nothing new in targeting Huawei.

“The US government’s concerns regarding Huawei are widely known so any information or communications technology company that continues to use Huawei products is assuming the risk that the US government will come knocking,” said Sofield, who represents the US and foreign companies facing the US national security reviews. He said he has not worked for Huawei.

The Commerce Department is using authority granted in 2019 that allows it to ban or restrict transactions between the US firms and internet, telecom and tech companies from “foreign adversary” nations including Russia and China, according to the executive order and related rules.

The two sources familiar with the Huawei investigation and a former government official said Huawei was one of the Biden administration’s first cases using the new powers, referred to Commerce in early 2021 by the Justice Department.

The Justice Department referred requests for comment by Reuters to Commerce.

The subpoena is dated April 13, 2021, the same day that Commerce announced a document request was sent to an unnamed Chinese company under the new powers.

It gives Huawei 30 days to provide seven years’ worth of “records identifying Huawei’s business transactions and relationships with foreign entities located outside of the United States, including foreign government agencies or parties, that have access to, or that share in any capacity, the US user data collected by Huawei.”

Noting that the “focus of this investigation is the provisioning of mobile network and telecommunications equipment…by Huawei in the United States,” it also asks Huawei for a complete catalog of “all types of equipment sold” to “any communications provider in the United States,” including names and locations of the parties to the sale.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

Internet

Amitabh Bachchan Wins Interim Order for Protection of His Personality Rights

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By ANI | Updated: 26 November 2022

Bollywood legend and veteran actor Amitabh Bachchan filed a suit in Delhi High Court seeking protection of his personality rights, image, voice or any of his characteristics without his consent, following which the court passed an interim ex-parte injunction in his favour.

Eminent lawyer Harish Salve along with Ameet Naik and Pravin Anand, instructed by Anand and Naik, appeared for Bachchan in the High Court. The matter was heard before Justice Navin Chawla.

Salve submitted that there is a complete misuse of Amitabh Bachchan’s name, image, voice or any of his characteristics without his consent.

“The misuse of his name, image and voice, especially by the mobile application developers, and people conducting lottery by illegally associating with KBC, book publishers, T-shirt vendors and various other businesses, has prompted Mr Amitabh Bachchan to approach the High Court, seeking a restraining order against the use of his personality traits,” Salve said.

The lawyer for Amitabh Bachchan also brought to the notice of the Delhi High Court that alleged infringers have illegally registered Bachchan’s name as web-domain names such as www.amitabhbachchan.com and www.amitabhbachchan.in.

Delhi High Court’s Justice Navin Chawla noted that the plaintiff/Amitabh Bachchan alleges a violation of his publicity right as a celebrity.

The court further noted that it could not seriously be disputed that the plaintiff is a very well-known personality and is aggrieved by the usage of his name, image voice etc without his consent.

“I am of the opinion that the plaintiff has been able to make out prima facie case in his favour. The defendants appear to be using celebrity status without his authorization, permission and consent,” the HC judge said.

Justice Navin Chawla in his interim order passed an interim ex-parte injunction in favour of the Plaintiff/ Amitabh Bachchan and against the defendants.

The plea stated that there is an infringement of the Plaintiff’s personality through various manners like digital means, instant messaging apps, physical means etc.

The digital means include several websites and mobile apps that have been found misappropriating the plaintiff’s photographs and/or other characteristics, to create popularity amongst the public and to entice members of the public to download such mobile apps.

The instant messaging apps include several unscrupulous parties that have been found using Bachchan’s photograph along with his name, and the representation of a TV Show Kaun Banega Crorepati (which is associated with Bachchan), to scam the public into believing that Kaun Banega Crorepati is offering lottery prizes to the members of the public.

The physical means include the cases where dishonest traders physically affix the actor’s images and posters on their places of business, on billboards or even on products that they engage in the manufacture and sale of, with the aim to unlawfully show a nexus/affiliation/sponsorship/association with the plaintiff, so as to boost their illegal profits.

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Science

NASA’s Orion Spacecraft Enters Lunar Orbit a Week After Artemis I Launch

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 26 November 2022

NASA’s Orion spacecraft was placed in lunar orbit Friday, officials said, as the much-delayed Moon mission proceeded successfully.

A little over a week after the spacecraft blasted off from Florida bound for the Moon, flight controllers “successfully performed a burn to insert Orion into a distant retrograde orbit,” the US space agency said on its website.

The spacecraft is to take astronauts to the Moon in the coming years — the first to set foot on its surface since the last Apollo mission in 1972.

This first test flight, without a crew on board, aims to ensure that the vehicle is safe.

“The orbit is distant in that Orion will fly about 40,000 miles above the Moon,” NASA said.

While in lunar orbit, flight controllers will monitor key systems and perform checkouts while in the environment of deep space, the agency said.

It will take Orion about a week to complete half an orbit around the Moon. It will then exit the orbit for the return journey home, according to NASA.

On Saturday, the ship is expected to go up to 40,000 miles beyond the Moon, a record for a habitable capsule. The current record is held by the Apollo 13 spacecraft at 248,655 miles (400,171 km) from Earth.

It will then begin the journey back to Earth, with a landing in the Pacific Ocean scheduled for December 11, after just over 25 days of flight.

The success of this mission will determine the future of the Artemis 2 mission, which will take astronauts around the Moon without landing, then Artemis 3, which will finally mark the return of humans to the lunar surface.

Those missions are scheduled to take place in 2024 and 2025, respectively.

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Internet

Amazon Said to End Two EU Antitrust Probes by Year-End to Avoid Fine

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By Reuters | Updated: 26 November 2022

US online retail giant Amazon may be able to end two EU antitrust investigations by the end of the year after tweaking concessions to address concerns over its use of sellers’ data, two people familiar with the matter said on Friday.

Settling the EU investigations means the company will avoid a fine of as much as 10 percent of its global turnover.

Faced with charges of using its size, power and data to push its own products to gain an unfair advantage over rival merchants that also use its platform, Amazon in July offered to refrain from using sellers’ data for its own competing retail business and its private label products.

The European Commission then sought feedback from rivals and customers and subsequently said the company needed to improve its concession.

Amazon has increased the range of data which it cannot use, one of the people said.

“It is possible an EU decision will come by the end of the year,” the person said.

The EU competition enforcer declined to comment.

Asked for comment, Amazon reiterated that it had engaged constructively with the Commission to address their concerns.

The company’s other concession is equal treatment of sellers when ranking their offers for the “buy box” on its website that generates the bulk of its sales.

It has offered to set up a second buy box for a rival product if it differs substantially in price and delivery from the product in the first box.

Bloomberg was the first to report the possibility of an EU decision by the end of the year.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Apps

Paytm to Resubmit Application for Authorisation of Payment Aggregator Services

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By ANI | Updated: 26 November 2022

Digital payments and financial services company Paytm has shared an update with the exchanges about its 100 percent subsidiary, Paytm Payments Services.

The fintech company said that it has received a letter from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) in response to an application from its subsidiary for the authorisation to provide payment aggregator services for online merchants.

The company can now resubmit the application within 120 calendar days for the payment aggregator services. Ahead of that, the company will seek necessary approval for past downward investment from Paytm into its subsidiary, to comply with foreign direct investment guidelines.

During this process, the company will not onboard new online merchants.

“We can continue to onboard new offline merchants and offer them payment services including All-in-One QR, Soundbox, Card Machines, etc. Similarly, PPSL can continue to do business with existing online merchants, for whom the services will remain unaffected,” said the company in its exchange filing on Saturday.

This essentially means that Paytm’s strong business momentum is likely to continue, with no impact on its profitability target as the company can continue to work with its existing online merchants.

Additionally, Paytm’s growing device deployments base and increasing offline payments base will also not be impacted with this development, as it can continue to onboard new merchants.

The company specifically outlined in its filing that this has no material impact on its business and revenues since the communication from RBI is applicable only to the onboarding of new online merchants.

“We are hopeful of receiving the necessary approvals in a timely manner and resubmitting the application,” said the company in the filing.

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Mobiles

Huawei, ZTE Sale, Import Banned in US After Being Listed as Threats by FCC

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 26 November 2022

US authorities announced a ban Friday on the import or sale of communications equipment deemed “an unacceptable risk to national security” — including gear from Chinese giants Huawei Technologies and ZTE.

Both firms have been on a roster of companies listed as a threat by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the new rules bar future authorizations of their equipment.

The move is the latest in a series of actions to limit the access of Chinese telecoms firms in United States networks, and comes amid a long-running standoff between the world’s two biggest economies.

US officials have shown growing wariness in recent years of Chinese telecommunications companies and technology.

“The FCC is committed to protecting our national security by ensuring that untrustworthy communications equipment is not authorized for use within our borders,” said the commission’s chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in a statement.

She added that the new rules are a part of ongoing work to guard against security threats.

The order also affects companies including video surveillance equipment firms Hangzhou Hikvision and Dahua Technology.

The FCC said Friday that it was also seeking comment on future action relating to existing authorizations.

Previously, Washington had banned Huawei from supplying US government systems and strongly discouraged the use of its equipment in the private sector, with fears that Huawei equipment could be compromised by Chinese intelligence.

In 2019, it put Huawei on a trade blacklist that barred US suppliers from doing business with it, cutting the Chinese firm — also a top smartphone brand — off from Google’s Android mobile operating system.

The US has cited national security fears as well to restrict the operations of China’s big three state-owned mobile carriers.

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Social Networking

Elon Musk Calls Donald Trump’s Twitter Ban ‘Grave Mistake’, Condemns Violence

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By Reuters | Updated: 26 November 2022

Twitter’s ban on then President Donald Trump after January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol by his supporters was a “grave mistake” that had to be corrected, Chief Executive Elon Musk said on Friday, although he also stated that incitement to violence would continue to be prohibited on Twitter.

“I’m fine with Trump not tweeting. The important thing is that Twitter correct a grave mistake in banning his account, despite no violation of the law or terms of service,” Musk said in a tweet. “Deplatforming a sitting President undermined public trust in Twitter for half of America.”

Last week, Musk announced the reactivation of Trump’s account after a slim majority voted in a Twitter poll in favor of reinstating Trump, who said, however, that he had no interest in returning to Twitter. He added he would stick with his own social media site Truth Social, the app developed by Trump Media & Technology Group.

Republican Trump, who 10 days ago announced he was running for election again in 2024, was banned on January 8, 2021, from Twitter under its previous owners.

At the time, Twitter said it permanently suspended him because of the risk of further incitement of violence following the storming of the Capitol. The results of the November 2020 presidential election won by Democrat Joe Biden were being certified by lawmakers when the Capitol was attacked after weeks of false claims by Trump that he had won.

Trump repeatedly used Twitter and other sites to falsely claim there had been widespread voter fraud, and had urged supporters to march on the Capitol in Washington to protest.

The attack is being investigated by US prosecutors and a congressional committee.

Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday on Musk’s statement that Trump did not violate any Twitter terms of service when his account was suspended.

Earlier on Friday, Musk tweeted that calling for violence or incitement to violence on Twitter would result in suspension, after saying on Thursday that Twitter would provide a “general amnesty” to suspended accounts that had not broken the law or engaged in spam.

Replying to a tweet, Musk said it was “very concerning” that Twitter had taken no action earlier to remove some accounts related to the far-left Antifa movement. In response to another tweet asking if Musk considered the statement “trans people deserve to die” as worthy of suspension from the platform, the billionaire said: “Absolutely”.

Change and chaos have marked Musk’s first few weeks as Twitter’s owner. He has fired top managers and it was announced that senior officials in charge of security and privacy had quit.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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