Why is 5G technology in Brazil of interest to U.S. national security?


Ericson Scorsim. Lawyer and Consultant in Communication Law, in the areas of Technologies, Internet, Media and Telecommunications. PhD in Law from the University of São Paulo (USP). Author of the Communications Law eBook Collection.

In an interview given to the Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo on June 11, 2020, Ambassador Todd Chapman of the United States declared that the financing of 5G technology for Brazil is of interest to U.S. national security. According to the representative of the U.S. government, it is in the interest of the United States to finance 5G technology, through the International Development Finance Corporation, for companies allied to North American interests, such as Ericsson (a private company originating in Sweden with global operations) and Nokia (a private company originating in Finland with global operations).  In fact, the legislation called the Build Act (Better Utilization of Investments Leading to Development Act of 2018) authorizes the IDFC (International Development Finance Corporation) to finance projects abroad with U.S. public funds. This legislation is a direct response to China’s action on emerging countries.

The goal of U.S. foreign policy is to stimulate investments in 5G for companies competing with Huawei. According to the U.S. Ambassador, Huawei’s 5G technology represents a risk of access to data and information, as there is a link between the company and the Chinese government. Thus, the company is obliged to share information with China’s intelligence services. Still, according to him, the U.S. State Department has adopted a 5G Clean Path program, which prohibits U.S. embassies from adopting the services of telecommunications operators that use equipment from high-risk 5G suppliers.[1] According to the Ambassador, it is unlikely that anyone will make investments in countries where their information is not protected.

Given this interview by the U.S. Ambassador, the question remains: why is there so much interest in 5G technology in Brazil? According to the Ambassador’s statement, there is U.S. national security interest in the issue. But the question remains: why this interest by the United States? Is the United States concerned about American companies operating in Brazilian territory and that may end up using Huawei’s 5G technology? Or, is the United States concerned about Brazilian companies using Huawei 5G technology? In an article published in the Communication Law Portal, I explained this issue of 5G technology and the dispute between the United States and China. In theory, there is a risk that Huawei will be forced by the National Intelligence Law of China to share data/information with the national intelligence service of that country. 

However, it must be noted that this type of risk may also exist in relation to U.S. telecommunications companies, which are obliged to collaborate with the U.S. national security intelligence, as determined by CALEA – the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act. Moreover, global technology companies (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Microsoft, Amazon, among others), providers of Internet applications, may also, in principle, be required to collaborate with intelligence and national security services in cases of risks to national security and public safety. In sum, the current U.S. government accuses Huawei and China of conducting electronic espionage and unauthorized access to data/information, which is the reason for the ban on Huawei’s 5G technology in U.S. territory. But who can guarantee that American government agencies do not conduct these types of electronic espionage either? After all, in 2013, it is public and notorious that Brazil was the target of espionage carried out by the National Security Agency of the United States, a fact proven by the Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry of the Brazilian Congress. The European Union and the United Kingdom have put forward solutions for mitigating cyber security risks from qualified high-risk supplier technology by imposing partial restrictions on Huawei.[2] Finally, it is up to Brazil, as a sovereign nation, to carry out the protection of the communications of Brazilian citizens, companies and institutions, in the face of any risks of electronic espionage, whether from the United States or China. If the Brazilian government and Congress do not respond to the challenge of protecting the infrastructure of communications networks regarding 5G technology, they may be held accountable for this omission to their institutional responsibility.

International strategic alliances are dangerous because they represent the risk of unconditional and uncritical adherence to the priority agenda of the country that is strongest in the relationship.  Hence the care required in the formulation of Brazil’s foreign policy in relation to the 5G theme. And Brazil’s automatic alignment to a foreign power has the potential to cause serious damage to its international relations. 

Automatic alignment can be the fruit of a colonized leadership; a colonized mentality submissive to the colonizer. Brazil’s national security policy regarding 5G communication network technology cannot be submitted to either the United States or China. A policy of submission is an attack on national sovereignty. Maybe it’s time to proclaim: Brazil First!

[1] According to the U.S. State Department: “The 5G Clean Path is an end-to-end communication path that does not use any 5G transmission, control, computing, or storage equipment from an untrusted vendor. A 5G Clean Path embodies the highest standards of security against untrusted, high-risk vendor’s ability to disrupt or deny services to private citizens, financial institutions, or critical infrastructure”.

[2]See: Scorsim, Ericson. A tecnologia competitiva de 5G da Huawei nas redes de telecomunicações de 5G: o alvo da geoestratégia da lawfare imposta pelos Estados Unidos contra Huawei e a China. Estudo completo do caso de repercussão sobre o Brasil.

Ericson M. Scorsim

Lawyer and Consultant in Communication Law. PhD in Law from USP. Author of the Ebooks Collection on Communication Law with a focus on topics on technologies, internet, telecommunications and media.