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Is It Illegal to Own a Huawei Phone?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on December 12, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Unless you follow all the latest tech news, you may not have heard of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei. Heck, you might not even know how to pronounce the company's name. (It's wah-way.) But what started out as a foreign company specializing in building telephone and data networks abroad, has branched into smartphone sales, rivaling Apple and Samsung in sheer volume.

For a moment, it looked like Huawei was on the verge of an American breakthrough, bringing their coolest phones to the U.S., but privacy and national security concerns have scuttled those efforts. So, are Huawei phones illegal in this country?

Political Policy

In 2012, a House Intelligence Committee report detailed the threat of Chinese telecommunications manufacturers to national security, using equipment and services as a means to conduct cyber espionage. The report found that Huawei specifically failed to cooperate with the investigation, did not adequately explain its history and ties to the Chinese Communist Party and the military, and continued to violate U.S. laws.

While no Huawei-specific laws were passed in the wake of the report, American companies were pressured not to do business with the company. Earlier this year, the Pentagon banned Huawei and ZTE phones from retail stores on military bases. And just last week, the Federal Communications Commission proposed new rules that would prohibit U.S. companies from accessing a government subsidy program to purchase telecom equipment from any company deemed to pose a national security threat.

Bricks and Mortars

CNET also reports that proposed partnerships with AT&T and Verizon to bring Huawei consumer devices to America have been scrapped in the past few months, and that Best Buy would pull all Huawei products -- including laptops and smartwatches -- from its shelves.

"Without carrier or even big-box retail distribution, it is basically impossible to sell premium smartphones in the US, and the political pressure to keep Huawei phones [out] is clearly rising as the US and China edge toward a trade war," according to Global Data analyst Avi Greengart. "The problems that Huawei is having with the US government are unlikely to blow over anytime soon."

So, while there might not be a criminal statute barring you from buying a Huawei, good luck finding one on store shelves.

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