UK government unveils new telecoms security law

25 Nov 2020

With a view to giving it what it claims would be ‘unprecedented new powers to boost the security standards of the UK’s telecoms networks and remove the threat of high risk vendors’, the UK government has announced ‘The Telecommunications (Security) Bill’.

In a press release outlining the new legislation, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) claimed that the Bill will strengthen the security framework for technology used in 5G and full fibre networks. Further, it said it expects the Bill to provide the state with new national security powers allowing it to issue directions to public telecoms providers in order to manage the risk of ‘high risk’ vendors. Although such companies are already banned from core network infrastructure, the Bill will reportedly allow the government to impose controls on telecoms providers’ use of goods, services or facilities supplied by high risk vendors. For those companies that ‘fall short’ of the new duties or do not follow directions on the use of high risk vendors, fines of up to 10% of turnover could be applied or, in the case of a continuing contravention, a levy of up to or GBP100,000 (USD133,000) per day would be possible under the new legislation.

It was also noted that the Bill will allow the government to issue specific security requirements that providers will need to follow to meet new, stronger overarching legal duties. However, such requirements will be set out in secondary legislation, the DCMS said. New codes of practice will come into force though to demonstrate how certain providers should comply with their legal obligations, and these will be published once the Bill has received Royal Assent.

Additionally, UK telecoms regulator Ofcom to be tasked with monitoring and assessing the security of telecoms providers, and it will gain stronger powers to monitor and assess operators’ security under the Bill. It will also enforce compliance with the new law, with its tasks to include carrying out technical testing, interviewing staff, and entering operators’ premises to view equipment and documents.

Commenting on the matter, Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said: ‘We are investing billions to roll out 5G and gigabit broadband across the country, but the benefits can only be realised if we have full confidence in the security and resilience of our networks … This ground-breaking bill will give the UK one of the toughest telecoms security regimes in the world and allow us to take the action necessary to protect our networks.’