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.
As the 21st century enters its terrible twos, the standoff between China and the U.S. is shaping up to be a “this town ain’t big enough for the both of us” scenario. We’re doing better than the 20th century, which by its second decade had endured the “war to end all wars” and seen the birth of the Soviet Union. One hundred years later, the matter of whether this planet can handle two superpowers has been renewed for the first time since the Cold War ended. Will it turn out to be the defining question of our century? At this stage, we can hope the international feuding won’t end with guns drawn at high noon – or a revived nuclear arms race.
Technology is one of the key arenas for U.S.-Sino clashes. From 5G infrastructure to “digital authoritarianism,” the two nations are set to fight it out over control of the internet. The U.S. has the home-field advantage, having dominated the web’s formative years – however, the next iteration, in the form of 5G, is where new battle lines are being drawn. Aside from any health controversies related to 5G millimeter-wave radiation, the technology could change our way of life significantly depending on who gets to dictate the industry.
Who Will Control the Cyber Domain?
“The United States is now on a precipice of losing the future of the cyber domain to China,” reads a report commissioned by Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “If China continues to perfect the tools of digital authoritarianism and is able to effectively implement them both domestically and abroad, then China, not the United States and its allies, will shape the digital environment.”
A Democrat-authored committee report, “The New Big Brother: China and Digital Authoritarianism,” was released against not just a background of digital disputes with the Asian superpower, but also spotlights on Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and the Wuhan Coronavirus pandemic.
The document details how China uses digital surveillance to track and control its own population. It describes how China has exported the hardware to Africa, Central Asia and South America. It points out that China has the largest number of internet users on the planet – 800 million – and is at the forefront of developing emerging 5G technology through companies like ZTE and Huawei.
The report further notes that China has had a surge of patent publications in the field of artificial intelligence and similar tech. The country also has plans for a “digital Silk Road” in conjunction with its Belt and Road initiative that seeks to connect a large swath of the world on China’s terms.
“These endeavors underline that China understands the importance of the digital domain to its domestic political stability and economic, political, and military rise,” the report states, “and wants to lead the globe in shaping the future of the digital world. It further demonstrates that China is executing a long-term plan to dominate the digital space.” The hazard posed by China is elaborated upon further:
“While China’s rise in the digital space is concerning to the United States in and of itself, an additional pressing issue facing not only the United States but the free world at large is how China is influencing and reshaping the Internet in its own political image … China’s rise as a key player in the digital domain that uses its influence to promote digital authoritarianism presents fundamental security, privacy, and human rights concerns for the United States and the international community at large.”
In terms of what to do next, the report recommends establishing various funds to promote a free internet – a somewhat ironic demand given how eroded U.S. internet freedoms are becoming. It also suggests strengthening the U.S. digital workforce by increased funding for STEM education and establishing a Cyber Service Academy similar to a military academy.
Other recommendations are based around international leadership and building alternatives to Chinese tech with U.S. allies.
Pompeo Pushes Allies to Ban Huawei
Speaking of convincing allies to turn from China, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been busy across the Atlantic. At the Copenhagen Democracy Summit in June, he accused China of “pushing disinformation and malicious cyber campaigns to undermine our governments to drive a wedge between the United States and Europe.”
The telecom and electronics company Huawei has been at the center of China’s efforts to export its 5G infrastructure around the world – and the U.S. has been attempting to limit that spread. “Everyone in this room knows that the Chinese Communist Party strongarms nations to do business with Huawei, an arm of the CCP’s surveillance state,” claimed Pompeo at the summit.
The U.K., after embracing the Chinese company just a few short months ago, has finally buckled to Pompeo’s pressure to remove Huawei from its 5G infrastructure. In fact, U.S. sanctions against the company appear to have been behind Britain’s change of mind – though Pompeo denied that was the real reason, citing cybersecurity measures. Britain’s capitulation makes Canada the final member of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance (also including Australia and New Zealand) that has yet to commit to a Huawei ban.
Although most media outlets have painted Europe as reluctant to follow President Trump’s lead, it appears Pompeo has been reasonably successful. France has not banned Huawei but discouraged its telecom operators from using it. “This is not Huawei bashing or anti-Chinese racism,” head of the French cybersecurity agency ANSSI, Guillaume Poupard, assured. “All we’re saying is that the risk is not the same with European suppliers as with non-Europeans.” Italy, too, has recently imposed a range of security measures against non-European 5G suppliers – apparently targeting China.
Britain was the first European domino to fall, and some have predicted that Germany will be America’s next target for convincing. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been reluctant to get rid of Huawei, but her political opponents and coalition partners appear to be getting impatient. Deutsche Telekom, a major European provider partially owned by the German government, has recently come under fire for alleged reliance on Huawei, based on documents obtained by German news outlet Handelsblatt. “If there is indeed a high degree of dependence of Telekom on Huawei in the expansion of the 5G network, this would be very problematic,” commented Thorsten Frei of the Christian Democratic Union, Merkel’s political party.
US Officials Act Against Chinese Tech Companies
Pompeo has also acted on U.S. soil, recently announcing visa restrictions on employees of Chinese tech companies – primarily Huawei, although he added that other providers like social media giant TikTok might soon be targeted. “Whether it’s TikTok or any of the other Chinese communications platforms, apps, infrastructure, this administration has taken seriously the requirement to protect the American people from having their information end up in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party,” he stated.
Trump recently said his administration was considering an outright ban on TikTok. At the same time, Sen. Josh Hawley’s (R-MO) No TikTok on Government Devices Act has now been passed by the House and unanimously approved by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
Of course, it’s very easy to point halfway across the world and accuse a communist regime of all manner of misdeeds – but while the U.S. claims to have a monopoly on digital freedom, how many American officials are willing to speak out against the growing censorship and surveillance on their own shores? Is it really possible for the citizens of this world to escape digital authoritarianism – regardless of who wins the upcoming technology shootout?
That’s all for this week from Tech Tyranny. Check back next Monday to find out what’s happening in the digital realm and how it impacts you.
Read more from Laura Valkovic.