Digicel rejects claims its network was used for Chinese espionage

Telco says claims by outgoing US ambassador to Jamaica are ‘without foundation’

Digicel, which does not use any Huawei equipment in its core voice and data networks, has refuted Donald Tapia’s allegations

Digicel, which does not use any Huawei equipment in its core voice and data networks, has refuted Donald Tapia’s allegations

 

Digicel has rejected claims from the outgoing US ambassador to Jamaica that Chinese spies have used its network to eavesdrop on his calls, as well as listening in to calls involving Jamaican citizens.

The pan-Caribbean telecoms group, owned by Irish entrepreneur Denis O’Brien, said claims made by Donald Tapia in an interview with local media were “without foundation”.

Mr Tapia, a wealthy businessman, philanthropist, Republican donor and vocal supporter of US president Donald Trump, said in the interview with the Jamica Gleaner newspaper that he had raised the subject of alleged unauthorised activity on the Digicel Jamaica network by Chinese interest with two senior company executives in a meeting in May 2020.

The company confirmed that executives had heard the allegations from Mr Tapia, but did not engage with the ambassador on the topic.

Allegations

During his two years as ambassador, Mr Tapia has consistently warned the Jamaican authorities not to allow Huawei to play a role in the country’s 5G network, in line with the tough stance taken by Mr Trump’s administration against the Chinese telecoms equipment company.

Digicel, which does not use any Huawei equipment in its core voice and data networks, refuted Mr Tapia’s allegations as did the Chinese embassy in Jamaica.

“Digicel is aware of claims and counter claims that several of the largest mobile phone networks in the Caribbean and globally, are allegedly being used by third parties for illicit purposes,” a spokesman said.

“Consistent with other network providers Digicel does not comment on geopolitical matters however it is entirely satisfied with the integrity and security of its networks and that such allegations are entirely baseless and without foundation,” it added.

Dismissed

Mr Tapia’s comments come as a recent report issued by Gary Miller, a respected Washington state-based security analyst, indicates that China has spied on US citizens via Caribbean mobile networks. The claim has been dismissed by the Chinese government.

Mr Miller, who leads a cyber threat research company called Exigent Media, told The Irish Times that while he had found direct evidence of espionage attempts on US phone numbers done via Chinese telcos aligned with a number of local telecoms companies, there was nothing to link Digicel with this.

“I’m not saying that this is not happening, I’m just saying that I didn’t find direct evidence to support that conclusion. However, if you read through my mobile threat intelligence reports, you will find that statistically speaking Digicel Jamaica has been identified as a source of high levels espionage attempts to US phones from 2018 to 2020,” he said.