In a hearing on January 29th, Senator Tom Cotton asked the heads of the intelligence community: “How many of you would use a telecommunications product made by Huawei or ZTE?”
Their response was quiet.
The subtle smiles on their faces were accompanied by flashbacks of NSA’s mass surveillance program: PRISM. The remnants of America’s largest government spy program lay as a grim reminder about the challenges facing consumers hoping to protect their privacy and information. As this event unfolded, Canadians were given a closer look into their country’s uneasy relationship with China.
In the following months, the CEO and founder of Huawei, Ren Zhengfei, responded to a question from CBS This Morning co-host Bianna Golodryga, about American security. “We never participate in espionage…. And we absolutely never install backdoors”. Facing over twenty-three criminal charges from the US Department of Justice ranging from wire fraud, conspiracy, and violating sanctions in Iran, the company faces a difficult year ahead. The company claims that the embargoes placed on Huawei products were economically motivated; introduced to decrease competitiveness in the industry for American telecom giants such as Apple and Google. (Huawei outsold Apple in phone Sales- Second to Samsung)
“We never participate in espionage…. And we absolutely never install backdoors”
The ban of its products in Canada would result in “serious consequences”, stated Chinese officials directing their response to Ottawa. Similar threats were made to the Australian Government when it voted to block the sale of Huawei products domestically. With no immediate repercussions, the acceleration of a global embargo increased. The United States, UK, and New Zealand, would soon follow suit.
Despite his numerous reassurances, Mr. Zhengfei has yet to convince government intelligence agencies that their technology has the capacity for spying or network mischief. NYU Law professor and Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, Jerome Cohen insisted, “There is no way Huawei can resist any order from the (Peoples Republic of China) government of the Chinese Communist Party to do its bidding in any context, commercial or otherwise”. He later stated: “Huawei would be forced to hand over 5G data to the Chinese government if asked, because of national security laws”.
For those who are unaware of the benefits behind 5G data, most users could expect to see download speeds up to 100x faster than 4G wireless networks. In
As of February 2019, Huawei has partnered with Canada’s top three wireless providers to develop their own domestic 5G networks. If these contracts are breached, the Canadian taxpayers will bear the brunt of these failures. Telus CEO, Darren Entwistle, has stated: “Our partnership with Huawei over the past decade has been fruitful for Canada and Canadians”. However, the Canadian telecom provider expects full reparations if the country halts the implementation of Huawei technology. Recent reports from Bloomberg News revealed that monetary compensations for ‘The Big 3’ Canadian telecom companies could amount over one billion dollars.
In retaliation to the arrest of CFO Meng Wanzhou, three Canadian citizens were arrested in mainland China – charged with endangering national security. They now face the death penalty which explains the Canadian government’s decision to delay an official announcement. Prime Minister Trudeau faces an unusual predicament. He must ensure that he does not erode Canadian ties with allies or China while under increasing pressure from domestic telecom companies. The technological arms race to adopt 5G capabilities has revealed serious vulnerabilities in contracting these novel information systems to third-party vendors. Officials warn that a ban is likely in the coming months, among them Richard Fadden, a former national security adviser to Trudeau. However, the lack of 5G technology in Canada could set back the Canadian wireless industry for years.
The Huawei – 5G indictment is proving to be more than just a political dispute. It has shed invaluable light on the control that governments wish to exert on our wireless infrastructures and information systems that connect our lives. Canada must make the decision of whether it wants to stay competitive in the global economy or preserve the rights of the individual consumer. If 5G really is the future, it’s the responsibility of government to seriously evaluate how they plan to utilize infrastructures into our societies.