Robert Strayer.

Robert Strayer.

The consequences of 5G deployment choices made during the next year or so by government and telecom operators "will be felt for years, if not decades, to come. The countries need to make the right decisions now," U.S. top cyber diplomat told reporters in Washington D.C.

Countries need to be able to trust the 5G equipment and software companies and that "they will not threaten their national security, privacy, intellectual property, or human rights," Robert Strayer, deputy assistant secretary of state for cyber and international communications and information policy, said during a virtual press briefing organized by the Department's Foreign Press Center, while delivering sharp criticism against telecoms giant Huawei and the consequences of "untrusted" Chinese components in 5G infrastructure.

"Trust cannot exist where telecom vendors are subject to an – authoritative governments like the People’s Republic of China which lacks an independent judiciary or the rule of law that would effectively prohibit the misuse of data or the disruption of critical networks.  In addition, in authoritarian countries there is no way for individuals to challenge such untoward activities," he said.

The ownership control of a company like Huawei is not transparent, and the company has a history of unethical and illegal behavior, including intellectual property theft.  Allowing untrusted, high-risk vendors such as Huawei and ZTE into any part of 5G networks makes critical systems vulnerable to disruption, manipulation, and espionage while putting sensitive government, commercial, and personal information at risk.

"The more countries, companies, and citizens ask whom they should trust with their most sensitive data, the more obvious the answer becomes: not the Chinese Communist Party’s surveillance state," he added.

When asked how the U.S. was planning to convey its messages on 5G when communicating with countries that are known with poor human rights records and might not necessarily subscribe to the Western values, Strayer told TURAN's Washington correspondent that as a forthright defender of human rights, the U.S. is "not going to change" its messaging just because a potential listener or someone we’re trying to convince about the dangers of untrusted vendors is – may not be – at this point been receptive to our points about protecting human rights and freedom of expression. "

In the meantime, he added, there’s a number of reasons in addition to security, including human rights and economic competitiveness, why a telecom operator in a country might want its telecom operators to use trusted vendors.

"If a country wants to attract a lot of outside investment, those major IT companies that are going to come from abroad and do foreign direct investment, they’re going to want an IT ecosystem, including major movement of data to servers and to cloud computing resources – they want that to be secured by trusted vendors and not have untrusted vendors providing that," he said.

In addition, indigenous development, research at universities and other places, could all be compromised within a country (inaudible) having the ability for the Chinese Communist Party to command Huawei and ZTE to take actions to exfiltrate that data.  So it’s just an overall self-interested move to move to trusted vendors regardless of what one thinks about the human rights abuse problem and the system of government in China.

"I think that there’s keen self-interest in countries that may not even have a concern for human rights in the economic and their own national security interests not being compromised because of the fundamental nature of having their ecosystem of interfacing technology basically under the control of a third country.  I think no country’s leadership wants that.  No country wants to have its sovereignty put at risk, even if they might hold similar non – even though they may not value human rights and individual liberties in the same way," he concluded.

Alex Raufoglu

Washington D.C.


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