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.
The Trump administration is making a major push to position itself as a counterforce to China, leading up to the 2020 election. Friction is growing between the two superpowers: one rising and one, perhaps, fading – though not if Donald J. Trump has anything to say about it. Recent moves by the U.S. have observers speculating whether the online world – increasingly becoming more relevant to “reality” than the universe experienced by thousands of generations before – is being forced into two camps: a U.S. network and a Chinese network. 5G technology has provided a useful means to redraft the internet; will the world soon be segregated into two digital arenas according to international alliances?
Whether it’s to prevent spying, avoid censorship, or simply maintain dominance over the global web, the United States isn’t giving in to Chinese competition without a fight.
Pompeo’s Clean Network
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo unveiled the Clean Network program, which seeks to prevent “aggressive intrusions by malign actors” – although only the Chinese Communist Party was mentioned as an example.
It builds on the earlier 5G Clean Path strategy to ban Chinese telecom equipment and services from all State Department systems located on U.S. soil or overseas. It has since been policy to view the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) tech entities, or any that have connections to the PRC, as “untrustworthy.” The State Department pointed out at the time: “PRC firms are required by the country’s National Intelligence Law to ‘support, assist, and cooperate with national intelligence efforts,’ and keep all such cooperation a secret.”
The Clean Network program will focus on five areas, including:
Clean Carrier: PRC carriers will not be connected with U.S. telecommunications networks.
Clean Store: Removal of untrusted apps from U.S. mobile stores. This could spell the end of video platform TikTok, echoing Trump’s recent statements – though young people across the country are sure to consider it a tragedy. Other notable apps targeted could be instant messaging service WeChat and perhaps some popular games. “With parent companies based in China, apps like TikTok, WeChat and others are significant threats to personal data of American citizens, not to mention tools for CCP [Chinese Communist Party] content censorship,” Pompeo said.
Clean Apps: U.S. or trusted apps should remove themselves from Chinese stores or devices. It’s not clear whether this is merely a suggestion or something that will soon be enforced – although the Trump administration already banned Google from working with Chinese phone company Huawei on devices released after May 16, 2019.
Clean Cloud: Prevent personal information and intellectual property from being stored and processed on cloud systems accessible to Chinese companies. The example of Coronavirus vaccine research is cited, a week after the Department of Justice indicted two Chinese hackers for allegedly trying to steal science from hundreds of companies in the U.S. and abroad. In another incident, the FBI contacted the University of Texas over accusations that the Chinese consulate in Houston was attempting to obtain its vaccine research – an investigation that was apparently instrumental in the decision to close that consulate.
Clean Cable: Ensure the undersea cables connecting the U.S. to the internet are not used by China to gather intelligence. In June, a government committee recommended rejecting an undersea cable connecting the U.S., Taiwan, the Philippines, and Hong Kong, on “national security grounds” and concerns that it would allow China to create “a database more detailed than any nation has ever possessed about one of its rivals.”
It’s no secret that the U.S. has been pressuring allies to follow its lead in extricating their burgeoning 5G networks from China – and according to Pompeo, “[m]omentum for the Clean Network program is growing.” He points to a selection of “Clean Countries” and “Clean Telcos” (telecom companies), primarily those in Europe, East Asia, and Australasia, including several Taiwanese outfits – a significant inclusion from a geopolitical perspective given Beijing’s view that Taiwan is part of its country. While the “Clean Network” title and idea have both predictably been labeled racist, no racial group has been directly targeted – the Han ethnicity is dominant in both mainland China and Taiwan.
English-language Chinese paper Global Times lambasted Pompeo’s announcement as little more than an electioneering tactic, with the additional aim of maintaining U.S. global supremacy. In one article, it claimed the initiative “reeks of McCarthyism” and reported that, according to analysts, the plan “is more like a pipe dream and manifestation of a certain madness going on in the US.” Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesman Wang Wenbin pointed out U.S. surveillance systems, such as PRISM, of Edward Snowden leak fame. “The US itself has countless stains, yet it talks big on a so-called ‘clean network.’ This is absurd and laughable,” he said. The paper also quoted a wit at Huawei, who referred to the program as “C-L-E-A-N: Clandestine and Lies Enabling American’s Narcissism.” Obviously, China is not happy.
Twitter Targets State Media
The U.S. government isn’t the only entity getting on China’s nerves; Silicon Valley tech titans may be starting to grate, too. YouTube recently banned thousands of Chinese accounts for “coordinated influence operations,” while Twitter and Facebook each announced plans to label state-controlled accounts, following in the footsteps of YouTube, which already does so.
Twitter’s effort is the most recent and seems to target China and Russia – given that the rule will only apply to the five permanent members on the United Nation’s Security Council (the others being France, the U.K., and the U.S.). The company further gives this impression by exempting various western outlets. It will only label state-affiliated content providing the “official” voice of a country and where the state holds editorial control. “State-financed media organizations with editorial independence, like the BBC in the UK or NPR in the US for example, will not be labeled,” it said.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry was quick to suggest that Twitter should apply the same labels to Western channels (yes, even including the BBC). China took a similar tack, with our trusty pals at Global News pointing out that Voice of America, “the US propaganda machine funded by the US Congress,” was similarly exempt.
Key government officials and agencies will be flagged, as well as state-linked media – although not the personal accounts of heads-of-state.
Twitter has gone a step further than others, however, being the first platform to actively stop promoting state-associated accounts. A user is still able to view messages if already following them – but will not be recommended the content.
While Twitter has been accused of bowing to Trump on the issue, the little blue bird has been no friend of his recently. The fact is that with international competition growing, Silicon Valley is vulnerable to losing its prized place at the head of the global food chain – unless it acts now to limit challengers from abroad, how long can it continue to reign supreme?
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.