Editor’s Note – As the technological realm becomes more pervasive, whom can we trust? Each week, Liberty Nation brings new insight into the fraudulent use of personal data, breaches of privacy, and attempts to filter our perception.
U.S.-Huawei Spying Dispute Gets Heated
Huawei, the Chinese telecom company, has been on the U.S. intelligence community’s naughty list for some time, and things are starting to get feisty. An article in The Wall Street Journal recently reported that “U.S. officials say Huawei Technologies Co. can covertly access mobile-phone networks around the world through ‘back doors’ designed for use by law enforcement,” a secret ability it has allegedly had for over a decade. The paper quoted a couple of national security personnel:
“’We have evidence that Huawei has the capability secretly to access sensitive and personal information in systems it maintains and sells around the world,’ national security adviser Robert O’Brien said. ‘Huawei does not disclose this covert access to its local customers, or the host nation national-security agencies,’ another senior U.S. official said.”
The Chinese firm was quick to hold a mirror up to Washington, however, accusing the U.S. of calling the kettle black. “As evidenced by the Snowden leaks, the United States has been covertly accessing telecom networks worldwide, spying on other countries for quite some time,” it said in a rather spicy statement. “The report by the Washington Post this week about how the CIA used an encryption company to spy on other countries for decades is yet additional proof.”
The WaPo article in question discusses a communications and information security company called Crypto AG that was hired by various countries during the Cold War – but turns out to have been a front for the CIA and West German intelligence, who used the information provided in codebreaking. China was never a customer of the company, but is it seeking to emulate the CIA model?
While Huawei cited The Washington Post, it panned the WSJ report, saying “The Wall Street Journal is clearly aware that the US government can’t provide any evidence to support their allegations, and yet it still chose to repeat the lies being spread by these US officials … We are very indignant that the US government has spared no efforts to stigmatize Huawei by using cyber security issues. If the US does discover Huawei’s violations, we again solemnly request the US to disclose specific evidence instead of using the media to spread rumors.”
To top it all off, the U.S. also presented to Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou a Valentine’s Day present of fresh charges in its case against her, adding claims that she committed intellectual property and trade secret theft, in addition to the 2019 accusations of fraud and cooperating with Iran against U.S. sanctions.
Autocracy over Democracy?
In huge news, it appears President Trump and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) have finally found something to agree about – yes, they both dislike Huawei. Following the U.K.’s recent decision to employ the Chinese firm in its 5G network against U.S. recommendations, Trump reportedly held an “apoplectic” phone call with Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Pelosi soon joined in the chorus, saying the decision was like “choosing autocracy over democracy on the information highway.” Apparently, bipartisanship is still possible in the Swamp today.
With the U.S. accusing its ally across the pond of favoring autocracy, could tensions soon arise over another decision by No. 10 Downing Street? Or perhaps the recent U.K. move will prove to become an inspiration for America’s regulation-hungry lawmakers, instead.
Liberty Nation’s Mark Angelides reported recently that the U.K. Prime Minister has granted the Office of Communications (Ofcom), a non-government media regulating body, the ability to “punish internet companies with fines, and even imprisonment if they fail to protect users from ‘harmful and illegal content.’”
The new powers will reportedly include:
- The ability to create guidelines that instruct content-hosting companies (YouTube, Facebook, etc.) on how to manage online censorship of “user-generated content.”
- Create rules for content that is “not illegal but has the potential to cause harm.”
- To have the remit for deciding, writing up, and adapting rules on how internet regulation works.
Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan and Home Secretary Priti Patel celebrated the step, claiming it would guarantee free speech for adults online while protecting minors from illicit content and sexual grooming. On the other hand, Angelides contends:
“Couched in language that suggests this is being done to protect children from pedophiles and vulnerable people from cyberbullying, the proposals will place a massive burden on small companies. Further, they will ultimately make it impossible for those not of the pervasive politically correct ideology to produce and share content … the last realm of freedom, the last place in which like-minded souls can exchange ideas, learn, and express themselves to their fullest is about to fall under the Orwellian control of an agency that will not even be accountable to the government itself.”
While the U.S. has the First Amendment to fall back on, there is no denying that lawmakers in Congress have been itching to regulate the internet. Will such laws stop at attempts to protect data, or will the U.S. follow the example of its erstwhile motherland? Perhaps we will soon see efforts to “think of the children” or to outlaw “fake news” and “misinformation.”
New Federal Agency on the Way?
Speaking of regulation of online data, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has announced a plan to protect Americans’ personal information – but does the U.S. need yet another federal agency? Gillibrand proposes the creation of a Data Protection Agency (DPA), to “protect Americans’ data, safeguard their privacy, and ensure data practices are fair and transparent.” Currently, authority over tech privacy and anti-competitive business practices belong to the Federal Trade Commission – though Gillibrand alleges it has failed in this duty. The FTC is in the midst of various tech investigations, the largest result of which has so far been a record $5 billion fine for Facebook in July 2019 over its privacy policies – an outcome deemed insufficient by many.
The new organization would:
- Have regulation-making and enforcing abilities.
- Have the power to issue subpoenas and conduct investigations.
- Take complaints from the public.
- Promote privacy-related innovation.
- Provide Privacy Enhancing Technologies (PETs) that minimize the collection of personal data.
- Ensure equal access to privacy protection.
- Represent the U.S. at international forums.
- Advise on relevant treaties.
- Inform Congress on new technologies such as “deepfakes” and encryption.
Representatives Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) put forward a similar bill in the House last November, the Online Privacy Act, which has yet to be put to a vote. Meanwhile, Republican Senator Josh Hawley (MO) has taken another tack, trying to reform what already exists with a plan to “overhaul the FTC and bring it into the 21st century.” Hawley is seeking to place the commission under Department of Justice authority, as – he suggests – it currently “lacks the ‘teeth’ to get after Big Tech’s rampant abuses.”
Gillibrand suggests that the U.S. is “vastly behind other countries” when it comes to data protection – indeed, a variety of nations have instituted such government bodies. But then, the U.S. is in the unique position of not only having a population subject to the collection of personal information but of also being home to the data collectors themselves.
That’s all for this week from Tech Tyranny. Check back in next Monday to find out what’s happening in the digital realm and how it impacts you.
Read more from Laura Valkovic.