By Ericson Scorsim*
The fifth generation (5G) telecommunications network technology presents challenges, risks, and opportunities for Brazil. Among the challenges and risks is cyber sovereignty over telecommunications networks and protecting the confidentiality of communications.
The cyber environment, integrated by telecommunications networks and information and communications technologies, targets influence operations wars, disinformation, and cyber-attacks. Another coveted intelligence asset is radio frequencies, essential for military operations and use in reconnaissance, monitoring, surveillance, and targeting, and valuable in electronic warfare.
Against this backdrop, the United States and China are vying for the lead over 5G technology. There are accusations by the US government of spying carried out by the government of China through the company Huawei. The concern is covert (backdoor) telecommunications network equipment capable of performing espionage for the Chinese government.
The US’s position towards vetoing the presence of a 5G technology supply is understandable. But the position taken by the United States is radical, denying free trade between the countries by prohibiting access to its market to one of the competitors, in this case, Huawei. So trade protectionism lies behind this national security issue, as there is no global leader in 5G technology from the United States.
The scenario of this geostrategic competition is in the book “Geopolitical Game between the United States and China in 5G Technology: Impact on Brazil”, which I authored, published in 2021.
Fixed and mobile telecommunications networks are critical national infrastructures of a country: they are targets for political and economic espionage and cyber-attacks. They are prime targets for espionage because they provide interception of communications. These are critical points for collecting sensitive information about people, subjects, and governments. These services operate at various layers: hardware, microchips, software, applications, fiber-optic network infrastructures, undersea cable networks, satellites, cloud computing, etc. The goal is to gain strategic, political, and economic advantages for the spying country over the target country.
Telecommunication networks, the Internet, 5G technology, satellites, undersea cables, and information and communications technologies are considered dual-use technologies, i.e., civilian and military functions. Thus, there is greater regulation by the US government, including control of exports and technology transfer to other countries.
Knowing this scenario, an interesting geostrategic alternative for Brazil is negotiating a non-espionage agreement with the United States. If there is interest from US companies in providing open architecture and interoperable (Open-Ran) technology in 5G telecommunications networks, the country must be protected from foreign intelligence services.
Several countries spy on Brazil, and, paradoxically, it is not technically able to spy on other countries. Therefore, Brazil must build its technical capacity regarding self-defense measures. In addition to this, this same type of non-espionage agreement can be negotiated with China, as Huawei is a major 5G technology supplier.
The advance of 5G technology shows us how critical it is that the leading global countries move forward on regulating cyber warfare and more stringent control of intelligence services’ actions. Transparency measures need to be taken to democratize intelligence gathering activities of governments, companies, and citizens and respect for the rights to confidentiality of communications and privacy.
*Ericson Scorsim is a Lawyer and Consultant in Communication Law, focusing on Technologies, Media, and Telecommunications. Ph.D. in Law from the University of São Paulo (USP). Author of the book “Jogo geopolítico das comunicações 5G – Estados Unidos, China e impacto sobre o Brasil” (The Geopolitical Game of 5G Communications – United States, China, and Impact on Brazil), published on Amazon.