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The Telecommunications (Security) Bill 2019-2021 (“the Bill”) was introduced in the House of Commons on Tuesday 24 November 2020. Second reading is scheduled for Monday 30 November 2020.

The Bill would bring in a new regulatory framework for telecommunications security. The Bill follows a cross-government review of UK telecommunications supply chains led by Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) from November 2018 and reporting in July 2019. The review focused on the supply chain arrangements for UK telecoms networks (where and from which companies UK telecoms networks source their equipment) and included an assessment of the wider security regulatory framework for telecoms. The Bill is set against a backdrop of security-related concerns with the involvement of Chinese technology company Huawei in telecoms infrastructure in the UK and abroad.

The Bill introduces a ‘new security framework for the UK telecoms sector to ensure that public telecommunications providers operate secure and resilient networks and services and manage their supply chains appropriately’. The Bill would place stronger duties and responsibilities on telecoms providers, and stronger powers for Ofcom, the UK telecoms regulator, to enforce those duties. The Bill includes new powers for the Secretary of State to set telecoms security requirements in regulations and codes of practice. The Bill would also give new national security powers to the Secretary of State to impose directions on telecoms providers with regard to “high risk vendors”. The Government stated that the Bill would “give the UK one of the toughest telecoms security regimes in the world”.

Shadow Minister for DCMS Chi Onwurah stated that the Opposition welcomed the measures taken to improve telecoms security but called for the publication of the telecoms supply chain diversification strategy, which the Government had promised would be published alongside the Bill.

Whilst little commentary has been published thus far, key trade associations have issued brief statements of support for the Bill. This has been described as a “guarded welcome”. The telecoms company Huawei has reportedly expressed unhappiness with the proposals.

The Bill, Explanatory Notes and Delegated Powers Memorandum have been published on the Bill page. The Bill’s Impact Assessment as well as summary factsheets have been published by DCMS.

As well as the Telecoms (Security) Bill, the Government introduced the National Security and Investment Bill 2019-2021 on 11 November 2020. The Bill would provide the Government with new powers to scrutinise and intervene in business transactions such as acquisitions for national security reasons. See CBP 8784 National Security and Investment Bill 2019-2021 for further details.

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