What concerns Huawei’s critics the most, is that 5G technology is leading to the so-called “Internet-of-Things” and Smart Cities, where citizens can hold a world of information in their hands, everyone and everything is connected through wireless radio antennas and fibre optic backbones, and states and corporations could have tremendous visibility into the lives of 5G phone users.
Given existing allegations against Huawei, Cherie Wong of Alliance Canada Hong Kong says it is “horrifying to think about Smart Cities in Canada.”
“We see strong overlaps of employees working for Huawei and also working for China’s security arm, and we also know that Huawei is active in suppressing and surveillance and intimidation happening in China,” she said. “Our data is so precious and so powerful.”
A 2018 CSIS report confirms that Smart Cities have expanded the Chinese Communist Party’s power inside China, and that Chinese tech companies could be used to enforce Beijing’s “social credit” scores on citizens and corporations outside of China.
Margaret McCuaig-Johnson, a former Canadian deputy-minister responsible for technology, also says Wong is right. Even if companies such as Huawei say they will resist demands from Chinese intelligence, McCuaig-Johnson says they are bound by Beijing’s 2017 national security orders that “any organization or citizen shall support, assist, and cooperate with state intelligence work according to law.”
And citizens are more vulnerable than ever to surveillance in 5G networks, she said.
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“With 5G the data is being held much closer to the consumer, not in secure databases, but distributed through the system. So this makes 5G much more vulnerable to hacking.”
However, according to a 2019 Globe and Mail story, Huawei Canada’s president Eric Li said the company will not spy on Canadians, and cannot allow China’s government to access its networks.
“With respect to Chinese lawful access legislation, we work for our Canadian customers and partners only. Simply put, we comply only with Canadian laws,” Li is quoted by the Globe and Mail.
But Abishur Prakash, a technology and geopolitics analyst, said that everyone — from individual phone users to Canadian political and business leaders — should be concerned about using Huawei technology.
“Absolutely, especially now that criticizing the Chinese government is considered a big no-no, for anyone, anywhere — even non-Chinese citizens. If Chinese devices can track and monitor people, and act as an extra pair of eyes and ears for the Chinese government, then individuals become pawns in a new kind of geopolitics.”