Recently, the US Senate Judiciary Committee convened to hear testimony on several problematic aspects of the imminent transition of US telecommunications infrastructure to 5G technology. Lasting nearly two and a half hours, the hearing focused on national security, intellectual property, competition, and innovation. Several high-placed officials from the government, including the Departments of State and Homeland Security – as well as experts from industry and higher education – comprised panel discussions with the members of the Senate committee.
Senators from both sides of the aisle shared a concern for many of the anticipated – as well as the unknown – consequences of 5G, especially with regard to national security. In her opening statement, Senator Dianne Feinstein (CA) noted the fundamental changes that 5G will bring to society and the economy, but also expressed the concerns of herself and others by quoting FBI Director Christopher Wray’s remarks earlier this year that 5G “…provides the capacity to exert pressure or control over our telecommunications infrastructure. It provides capacity to maliciously modify or steal information. And it provides capacity to conduct undetected espionage.” So, what is the source of all of this angst over 5G as it relates to our national security? Most of it has to do with one thing… China.
Americans have become accustomed to having and using products from China ever since it started becoming a global manufacturing powerhouse in the late 20th century. Even many American-made electronics feature chips or subcomponents that originate in China. Why this is a particular problem with respect to 5G comes down to two main issues.
5G Will Be Part of Everything
First, the main upshot of 5G is the interconnectedness of 5G devices. The Internet of Things (IoT) and the proliferation of 5G connected devices will create a dense and ubiquitous network the likes of which we’ve never seen. This network will eventually encompass our personal vehicles, hospitals, power grid, and various other government, corporate, or military institutions. Whoever provides the technology and services needed to run these networks could have unprecedented access to the data streaming between the nodes, and to the devices themselves. This opens the door for state and corporate espionage, as well as more nefarious acts of sabotage. Malicious components originating in China and designed specifically for espionage have already been found within computer servers in top US companies.
China’s Military-Industrial Partnership
Second, China is an adversarial power to the US with state control over their industries. Despite many cultural and governmental changes over the past few decades, China is still a communist regime with single-party rule and ultimate control over Chinese-based companies. As a result, there is little separation between their military and civilian goals, which means that Chinese firms that could supply the technology and services for US 5G networks have little stopping them from acting at the behest of their government to compromise US interests. The Chinese telecom company Huawei, which manufacturers mobile phones, among other things, is an open fusion of Chinese state and civilian interests. Huawei is already under suspicion for acts of espionage in the US and other nations. China has shown a willingness, as evidenced by multiple cases already, to use its global advantage in electronics manufacturing as a backdoor to spy on both its state and corporate adversaries. It is currently working hard to position itself as the leader in 5G infrastructure as well. The ball is already rolling on 5G, but security concerns like those expressed in the Senate committee are growing. As these concerns come to light, they will hopefully lead to common-sense solutions and a measured approach to moving forward into the future.