5G Brings Promise And Peril

“5G will have an impact similar to the introduction of electricity or the car, affecting entire economies and benefiting entire societies,” Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf said two years ago when explaining the massive changes 5G will bring.  Many industry experts and pundits concur that the advent of 5G technology will no doubt be revolutionary. But not everybody is jumping on the bandwagon. For them, 5G is fraught with dangers if misused by individual bad actors or nation-states. Unlike current or past technology, 5G offers far more openings for cyber-attacks or other disruptions.

A major concern is that 5G is designed so machines will function better as opposed whereas previous mobile broadband tech was focused on people and improving their communication capabilities. 4G has a fifty-millisecond delay, 5G data transfer will offer a mere one-millisecond delay–we humans won’t notice the difference, but it will permit machines to achieve near-seamless communication. This will certainly boost corporate productivity and profits while opening a big Pandora’s Box of trouble for us – and our planet. If you had any misgivings about AI and robots running our lives before, then 5G puts those concerns on steroids.

5G Ongoing Angst, New Threats

But we’re not going to rehash here the obvious problems that the new speeds (and demands) pose. You know, things like infrastructure and bandwidth. Like the need for new input and output ports that would likely result in wireless antennas every few feet, on every lamppost and utility pole in your neighborhood because its signal waves can’t penetrate as easily as those transmitted from 4G towers. And then there are healthcare worries about excessive radiation damaging/mutating the cells in our bodies. The opposite view is that the benefits of doctors being able to treat the patients wherever they are because we can transmit images of our bodies to them.  The minutiae, the technical and logistical issues will ultimately get resolved sooner or later given human ingenuity and technical know-how.

 No, as I see it, given the geopolitical composition of the planet, the real danger lies in bad actors-groups or rogue nations—hijacking the technology to further their nefarious goals and we being complicit thanks to the never-ending cry by law enforcement (and others) for things like backdoors. If you think that debate has gone away, think again. In fact, their pleas are likely to escalate given the complexity, promise, and power inherent in 5G. There are strenuous arguments that opponents have been voicing for years regarding today’s technology. Among them, you know, if law enforcement can access your phones so can the bad guys, take on greater import and urgency now. And the geopolitical player with most to gain by gaming the system is China.

Why Fear China?

China has been infiltrating governments and stealing foreign corporations’ secrets for years. This is not news. But think of the consequences and repercussions if China can insinuate itself into all our lives, and can interfere with government functions, and those of businesses. China can do this because of its incestuous marriage with its communication companies as they will get ahead of the curve and hijack technology. It will be made much easier if it succeeds in creating backdoors into the nascent 5G technology or worse if we do it for them.

 “The fear ultimately is that China monitors the traffic that’s passing through American networks’ recording it … and sending it back to China, and China has this goldmine of data, “The bigger fear from a military perspective is that it builds in a backdoor and they selectively use it,” according to Chris Meserole, a Brookings Institution fellow who specializes in the impact of technology on U.S. foreign policy. What a calamity if the Western world kow-tows to law enforcement or others by greasing the skids for the likes of China by creating back doors. “If you build in a back door to it, it’s game over,” he said.

The sheer scale of China’s influence on foreign governments and interconnectedness of wireless systems could leave federal agencies and other official channels vulnerable.  Stopping them seems almost impossible given that Chinese companies such as Huawei and ZTE Corp are entrenched in markets around the globe and rival top Western companies in their sophistication of 5G technology. And there is an abundance of evidence that it is highly motivated to –at the very least –exploit its commercial technology advances to infiltrate U.S. companies. Can you imagine the military implications given that the U.S. and many other advanced countries’’ militaries rely so much on technology even for everyday functions?

A Silver Lining ?

China has no restrictions against it and can hack away with abandon. Western nations’ regulations and laws, on the other hand, hinder them from moving at the warp-speed of China in the tech world. Ironic isn’t it that playing by the rules should penalize participants in the economic/technology game. But at least the West and its allies know of China’s voracious appetite for all things tech related and its unquenchable desire for world dominance through technology. To be forewarned is to be forearmed.

The sticky wicket is that, despite being fully aware of these unsettling issue, threats and concerns, US corporations continue to maintain a gung-ho attitude about 5G. And with good reason: there are profits to be made– and there is nothing wrong with that. But they don’t have to shoot themselves in the foot, nor jeopardizee national and personal security by helping the Chinese. They would do so by building backdoors or caving into pressures to do so—and with it weaken our security and put our privacy in peril.

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