Robert O’Brien, the new national security advisor to President Donald Trump, warned that U.S. allies who are thinking of allowing Huawei to build their 5G networks risk an information security doomsday. Such a situation would allow the Chinese government to have backdoor access to their citizen’s private data.
Accessing private information
“Every medical record, every social media post, every email, every financial transaction, and every citizen of the country with cloud computing and artificial intelligence can be sucked up out of Huawei into massive servers in China… This isn’t a theoretical threat,” he said to NPR.
The U.S. has been trying to convince its allies like Europe, Japan, and Australia not to allow any Chinese company to build their communication infrastructure. Japan, New Zealand, and Australia have already indicated that Huawei is unwelcome in their countries. However, some other allies, like the UK and Canada, are still on the fence regarding the issue, torn between the need to protect their communications and not to displease China.
O’Brien brought attention to China’s Social Credit Score system that determines whether a citizen gets access to employment, train tickets, flight bookings, etc., depending on how well they comply with the rules set by the Communist Party. Citizens who dutifully follow the rules get high scores and preferential treatment, while the rest are left out. According to O’Brien, allowing China to access the private information of other nations will enable Beijing to expand its Social Credit Score system globally, micro-target people, and even influence elections abroad.
President Trump recently admitted that despite his best efforts, some allies were unwilling to block Huawei from setting up 5G networks in their nations. The Chinese government has subsidized Huawei tech to such an extent that the company is able to provide the same equipment as Nokia, Ericsson, and Qualcomm at a lower price, thus making itself an unavoidable competitor in the 5G market.
China has also been threatening countries with “serious consequences” should they block Huawei. Germany is the latest target of such threats. The Chinese ambassador in Berlin warned that the German car industry could be hurt given that the country sold almost 28 million cars to China in 2018. “If Germany were to take a decision that leads to Huawei’s exclusion from the German market, there will be consequences. The Chinese government will not stand idly by,” the ambassador said in a statement (South China Morning Post).
A new report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Cyber Policy Centre reveals that Huawei is one of the suppliers of surveillance technology to Xinjiang, where millions of Uyghurs are being persecuted for their religious beliefs. Though the company has often stated that it has no role in such repressive policies, the author of the report, Vicky Xu, calls the claim “just straight-up nonsense.”
The report shows that Huawei “has worked with the Karamay Police Department on cloud-computing projects; with the Public Security Bureau of Aksu Prefecture on a modular data centre; with the regional capital, Urumqi, on the establishment of an ‘intelligent security industry’ innovation lab; and with the Xinjiang Broadcast and Television Network Co. Ltd. on a co-operative project whose goals include ‘creating good public opinion for achieving Xinjiang’s general goals of social stability and long-term stability’,” according to The Globe and Mail.
Xu added that what Huawei does in Xinjiang is not vastly different from what HikVision is doing in the region. The U.S. has blacklisted HikVision for its involvement in human rights violations in Xinjiang. Huawei has released two dozen new surveillance cameras in 2019. The global shipment of its cameras has risen about 460 percent when compared to the previous year.