Emails obtained by the South China Morning Post under a freedom of information request show that staff within College raised concerns about Trinity’s partnership with the tech company Huawei.
The emails were sent after the telecommunications company BT removed Huawei from the 4G network in Britain, and they discuss seeking advice from government authorities on Trinity’s continued involvement with the company.
One message, sent on December 5 from a member of staff whose name was redacted, said: “We should not take this lightly and be complacent (…) if only for the purpose of showing our awareness of the delicacy on this matter.”
Two days later, the head of Trinity’s corporate partnership office, Declan Wheldon, replied to say that “discrete inquiries” were being made regarding the issue with IDA Ireland, a semi-state body that promotes foreign investment in Ireland.
Huawei has made a variety of research investments in universities around the world, but an increasing number of these institutions have recently decided to sever ties after concerns were raised by national intelligence agencies that the Chinese government may be able to hijack the company’s technology for the purposes of espionage.
Last week, the Irish government directed the Gardaí’s intelligence branch to assess if technologies made by Huawei pose a threat to national security.
During a hearing of the US Senate Intelligence Committee, the FBI director, Chris Wray, said that the Chinese government’s relationship with Huawei “provides the capacity to maliciously modify or steal information” and that it provides “the capacity to conduct undecided espionage”. Several US universities including Princeton, Stanford, Ohio State, and UC Berkeley have cut ties with the tech company after the FBI held a summit with university presidents.
The University of Oxford also placed a ban on accepting research grants or donations from Huawei in January. The university said it was responding to “public concerns raised in recent months surrounding UK partnerships with Huawei”. The university sent an email to its doctoral students urging them not to discuss “confidential or proprietary information” with their contacts in the company.
However, Trinity intends to continue its partnership with the company. Speaking to Trinity News, a spokesperson for College said that “at this stage we have no plans to alter programmes with any of our partners,” adding that Trinity “gives careful consideration to each partnership”.
Trinity’s research cooperation with Huawei focuses on how artificial intelligence will impact society.
Last December, the head of British intelligence service MI6, Alex Younger, said: “We need to decide the extent to which we are going to be comfortable with Chinese ownership of these technologies and these platforms in an environment where some of our allies have taken a very definite position.”
America, Australia, and New Zealand have banned Huawei technology in parts of their networks.