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Amid China Tensions, Govt May Blacklist Some Telecom Vendors to 'Enhance National Security'

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The government move effectively means that certain telecom equipment vendors from China may face fresh curbs, as the telecom sector will have a list of companies from where firms can safely buy products and services.

Amid the border standoff with China, the central government on Wednesday announced that it may blacklist certain telecom vendors and prepare a list of trusted providers from where one can buy equipment.

The government move effectively means that certain telecom equipment vendors from China may face fresh curbs, as the telecom sector will have a list of companies from where firms can safely buy products and services.

Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, addressing reporters, said the decision was taken by the Cabinet Committee on Security to “enhance security of telecom sector" by designating trusted vendors. He refused to comment on whether the decision was taken with an eye on China.

Since the border standoff in May this year, there has been a growing concern that using China-made technology and telecom equipment would be amenable to the country snooping on India. There is also growing awareness in India about the need to protect sensitive data and keep it in-house.

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“The Cabinet Committee on Security has given approval for National Security Directive on Telecommunication Sector. Under this, in order to maintain integrity of supply chain security, the government will declare a list of trusted sources/products for the benefit of telecom service providers," Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said.

He added that the companies will be able to buy telecom equipment from these trusted sources. “So there’s a trusted source and there’s a not-trusted source," he said, adding that it was an important step for national security. “Existing telecom equipment with operators will not be impacted," he said.

Indian telecom providers have always relied on a mix of vendors, including Chinese giants like ZTE and Huawei, but regulation has increased in the sector particularly since the border row with China, as telecom infrastructure is considered part of national security assets. Huawei Technologies Co. and ZTE Corp. are also set to be kept out of India’s plans to roll out its 5G networks due to the soured relations between India and China.

In November, the government had banned 43 Chinese mobile apps for activities “prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order". On June 29, the government had blocked access to 59 Chinese apps, including hugely popular TikTok and UC Browser and on September 2, another 118 apps including PUBG Mobile, WeChat Work, Baidu, among others were banned under section 69A of the IT Act.

The move was based on “comprehensive reports received from Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Center, Ministry of Home Affairs," said a government statement.

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first published:December 16, 2020, 17:17 IST