Huawei: National needs vs. World Internet

huawei-3737335_640The recent issue of Huawei 5G equipment in the UKs 5G infrastructure highlights the challenges of the internet and technology, which often cross international borders, but where the services and hardware is produced by companies which exist clearly within the borders of countries and therefore potentially within the influence of their governments.     There is a clear tension here between the services provided to the internet and the companies providing them.

The Huawei case is very much about internet security.     The implication is that Huawei could be influenced by the Chinese government who could then leverage the Huawei equipment installed in foreign countries telco infrastructure to gather intelligence, modify or filter communications or otherwise impact on the operation of a country through control of its communications systems.    This all seems quite logical.   Who would want a foreign government to be able to exercise power of their infrastructure?

The issue for me here, is that the technologies, either hardware or software, have to be created and then developed and deployed from somewhere in the world.     Apple devices, Microsoft Windows, Facebook, Google, all have to come from somewhere and in doing so could be influenced by governments or political powers within that given location.   So, the Huawei argument from the perspective of a UK citizen, may equally be matched by Chinese concerns over Apple from the perspective of a Chinese citizen.     Looking to the US, there is even some precedence for being suspicious with Kaspersky, which I note are a Russian firm, highlighting in 2015 that the NSA, a US intelligence agency, could “implant spyware of hard drives to conduct surveillance on computers around the world”.

Technology and technology services are used internationally whether that is a Dell laptop, Dropbox cloud file storage or newspaper website.    Often, these products or services may use components from other organisations, such as Seagate hard drives in a laptop, or Google Analytics or Facebooks share and like buttons on a companies website.   This further complicates things.   The devices, services and components are all used without consideration for international borders.     Yet we live in a world where international borders exist, where governments may have a stake in technology companies or may have influence.  The risk of influence exists.

One solution to this is to block and to ban.   China block Google and YouTube for example, and now it looks like the US and UK are banning Huawei.    Meanwhile in Russia they are testing their own national internet system separate to the “real” internet.    This may be the direction governments increasingly pursue, to block, ban or to create in-country copies, but for me I don’t see how this will work.    In China VPNs provide a solution to circumvent blocks while I am sure Chinese semiconductors/microchip are already in so many of our devices in the office and at home.   If the service or device works for users, it will find its way into use no matter what governments choose to do.

The answer for me is an acceptance of the complexity of this predicament and that countries will have their own personal motives or ends that they wish to encourage.    It is, in my view, a lose-lose situation.     Leave Huawei in place and allow for the risk of Chinese influence or remove Huawei which will likely result in counter moves by the Chinese plus, assuming they are seeking to exert influence via technology, them targeting other parts of the world wide internet infrastructure and services.

All we are left with is a risk-based judgement, which is what I believe must have been taken here.    The risk of counter action, Chinese influence over other parts of the internet and additional cost of changing supplier including removing existing Huawei technology must have been judged to be less than the risk created by Huawei technology within the UKs core or edge network.  My worry here is the potential for bias in the decision making.   As Pinker(2018) points out, “people are poor at assessing probabilities” so “if two scenarios are equally imaginable, they may be considered equally probable”.   Potentially the probability of destructive Chinese action against the UK may have been over estimated.   As such the preventative action taken in blocking Huawei may be excessive.   Or maybe it isn’t!

And if you want to take this whole discussion a stage further let’s consider how companies might now influence the world.   Take for example Facebook which, if it were a country, based on users it would be biggest in the world.    What if we accept that it to may have motives and ends to its is actions, beyond simply providing the Facebook platform?    Google, Microsoft, Apple, Twitter, etc, may all be the same.   But that is possibly for another post.

 

References:

BBC News. 2020. Huawei 5G kit must be removed from UK by 2027. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-53403793. [Accessed 16 July 2020].

CNet. 2015. NSA planted surveillance software on hard drives, report says. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.cnet.com/news/nsa-planted-surveillance-software-on-hard-drives-report/. [Accessed 16 July 2020].

Pinker, S., 2018. Enlightenment Now. 1st ed. UK: Penguin House.

TechCrunch. 2019. Russia starts testing its own internal internet. [ONLINE] Available at: https://techcrunch.com/2019/12/26/russia-starts-testing-its-own-internal-internet/?guccounter=1. [Accessed 16 July 2020].

World Economic Forum. 2016. If social networks were countries, which would they be?. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/04/facebook-is-bigger-than-the-worlds-largest-country/#:~:text=If%20Facebook%20were%20a%20country%2C%20it%20would%20be,it%20each%20month%20-%20around%201.9%20billion%20people.. [Accessed 16 July 2020].

Advertisement

Author: garyhenderson2014

Gary Henderson is currently the Director of IT in an Independent school in the UK. Prior to this he worked as the Head of Learning Technologies working with public and private schools across the Middle East. This includes leading the planning and development of IT within a number of new schools opening in the UAE. As a trained teacher with over 15 years working in education his experience includes UK state secondary schools, further education and higher education, as well as experience of various international schools teaching various curricula. This has led him to present at a number of educational conferences in the UK and Middle East.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: