From safe cities to unsafe networks
Huawei was more focused on the shiny world of 5G this week. The U.S. is campaigning to prevent Huawei 5G technology from being deployed in networks in allied countries. Its argument is that there may be cyber backdoors that either facilitate information collection or enable a network compromise attack. The U.S. also claims that Huawei is heavily linked to the government in Beijing and obliged to do its bidding. All of this is vehemently denied.
As reported by the Times, the latest news is that the CIA showed intelligence to senior British officials earlier this year, supporting those claims that Huawei “has received funding from branches of Beijing’s state security apparatus… American intelligence shown to Britain says that Huawei has taken money from the People’s Liberation Army, China’s National Security Commission and a third branch of the Chinese state intelligence network.”
The Times claimed that the intelligence was provided to “only the most senior U.K. officials,” and that the CIA awarded the material “a strong but not cast-iron classification of certainty.” The newspaper also reported a second source as saying that there is a view within the U.S. intelligence community that “the Chinese ministry of state security — its principal security and espionage organization — had approved government funding for Huawei.”
Despite this, on Wednesday it was widely reported that the U.K. had decided to part-include Huawei in its 5G network, restricting it to non-core only. But ‘in’ is ‘in’, and the news was greeted with a political backlash.
The U.K. isn’t alone in ignoring U.S. warnings. Last week, Huawei claimed it had “signed 40 commercial contracts for 5G with leading global carriers and had shipped more than 70,000 5G base stations to markets around the world.”
Huawei front and center
So, with the networks in place, how about end-to-end surveillance programs. According to Huawei, the company “has helped more than 160 cities in over 40 countries and regions implement smart city projects… Huawei [has] played an active role in the development of China’s national standard for smart cities… The Intelligent Operation Center (IOC), a solution developed by Huawei that functions as the ‘brain’ of the smart city, has been deployed in more than 10 cities around the world and has become the leader in the global IOC domain.”
There are plenty of references, even if the Serbia case study was deleted. “Huawei’s safe city solutions now serve over 700 cities across more than 100 countries and regions,” the company claims, “including Brazil, Mexico, Serbia, Singapore, Spain, South Africa, and Turkey. In Saudi Arabia, Huawei helped Yanbu make its digital transformation blueprint a reality. As a result, resident satisfaction increased to 90%. In South Africa and Thailand, the Huawei Government Cloud Solution helps governments share resources, integrate data, and continuously increase the adoption of ICT. In Brazil, Huawei’s e-tax solution has helped double the number of electronic invoices issued and helped the country implement its tax reforms.”
A recent BBC documentary claimed that a Huawei safe city solution in Pakistan was found to contain ‘extra’ wifi cards in the CCTV enclosures that represented a potential ‘backdoor’ threat. The devices were questioned and then removed. “With our solution,” Huawei has said, “the city of Lahore decreased the average time it takes to respond to public safety incidents from 30 minutes to 10 minutes and shortened the average time it takes police officers to resolve a case from 45 days to 2 days.”
And in China, where Huawei still generates just over 50% of its fast-growing revenues, the company “has participated in more than 60 smart city projects, including in Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Shenzhen, Suzhou, Jilin, Yiyang, and Gaoqing. We have used the latest technologies such as 5G, cloud computing, and IoT to help customers build new types of governments, which enable smarter city administration and foster a more people and business-friendly environment.”
All roads lead to Xinjiang
So what’s the issue? Ultimately, Xinjiang is the issue. Xinjiang with all of its surveillance-enabled oppression. Xinjiang with its major government procurement of technology that acts as part subsidy and part development funding for China’s tech sector. Xinjiang is part of a much larger program in China, it just happens to be the most extreme part of that program.
China has essentially developed an unconstrained and unlimited surveillance laboratory across Xinjiang, a province with a larger population than 22 of the European Union’s 28 member states. AI feeds on raw training data and safe haven deployments, where the technology can be honed and improved.
In May 2018, the Xinjiang’s Autonomous Region Public Security Department and Huawei signed a strategic cooperation agreement for a joint innovation laboratory. A Huawei representative at the signing ceremony said that the company “will integrate resources, provide industry-leading products and services, and cooperate extensively with local high-tech enterprises to build a safer and smarter society with the public security department of the autonomous region.”
And then in August 2018, the Huawei Urumqi DevCloud was launched to “promote the development of the software information industry in the district and all of Urumqi.”
As I wrote in October, the technology laboratories that China has developed (oppressively) in Xinjiang and (more sensitively) in its giant metropolises are being relentlessly exported under a state-subsidized push towards a dominant position in the security sector. In buying this state-subsidized technology and in participating in giddy investment rounds for AI unicorns, the West is an apparently willing participant in this.
And, as the New York Times explained this week, “loans from Beijing have made surveillance technology available to governments that could not previously afford it, while China’s authoritarian system has diminished the transparency and accountability of its use,” adding that “Chinese start-ups, backed in part by American investment, are competing to build methods for automated policing.”
Huawei was approached for a comment on any continuing work they have in Xinjiang; anything received will be published here.
If not now, when?
Even where companies that were part of Xinjiang have now backed out, the point is that the system has fueled the development of advanced tech by existing players and new entrants with no reins applied. The SenseNets data breach illustrated this perfectly. It’s not acceptable to use population control to develop tech, and then, when it’s ready to export, to back away and claim some level of newfound morality.
My conclusion from October still stands – in the world of China’s surveillance state, if there are no impediments applied by technologists, customers, investors or regulators, then we are collectively responsible for what is unleashed.