Two former employees at the Huawei office in the Czech Republic have revealed that the Chinese tech giant instructed staff to secretly gather personal information on clients and government officials, then pass the data on to China.
The findings were the result of a recent investigation by public radio broadcaster Czech Radio, and the two former managers spoke to the media outlet on the condition of anonymity.
The two managers separately told the broadcaster the same thing: the company kept an internal database, which they had to constantly update with personal information on their clients, such as personal interests and financial situations.
Some of the personal information was gathered during business meetings, according to Czech Radio.
“Access to the information, which is stored in this customer relationship management system, is managed exclusively from the headquarters in China. It is very hard to find and prove who has access to this data and what they use it for,” one of the managers said.
The manager added that it was “common practice” for Huawei employees to discuss client information at meetings with staffers at the Chinese embassy in the Czech Republic. However, the manager couldn’t confirm whether those employees were spies.
It isn’t known why Huawei was having those meetings with Chinese embassy staff.
The second manager spoke of how he entered information on Czech officials, particularly those with a department-director position or deputy-ministerial position, into a computer document. That document was intended for Huawei’s management in both the Czech Republic and China.
Huawei used that document to make decisions on which Czech officials to invite to attend a conference or go on a trip to China, according to the second manager.
According to Czech Radio, the Czech intelligence was aware of such practices at Huawei, citing an unnamed source.
In response to the Czech Radio report, Huawei said in a written statement that it denies having engaged in any unlawful practices.
Czech Republic’s domestic national intelligence agency BIS has prepared special courses for the country’s civil servants and politicians in order to prep them for dealing with the kind of intelligence-gathering tactics allegedly used by Huawei, according to Czech Radio.
A BIS spokesman said that the course instructed participants to be careful at meetings, because anyone could be an intelligence officer, according to Czech Radio.
The U.S. government has been warning Western countries about the security risks associated with Huawei equipment, particularly in the realm of 5G technology, as it is set to be used in critical infrastructure.
On May 16, the U.S. Department of Commerce added Huawei and 68 affiliate companies to its “Entity List,” which means U.S. firms are banned from doing business with them unless granted special government approval.
In December last year, the Czech National Cyber and Information Security Agency issued a security warning to IT firms advising against using Huawei software and hardware, as well as products made by another Chinese tech giant, ZTE.
The warning stated that Chinese companies are required by law to cooperate with Beijing, including in intelligence-gathering.