The Key Issue Associated with the 5G Network Security in New Zealand Is Not “Trojan Horse” but “Snowden” and “Apple-FBI”

Replica of the Trojan Horse. Image Source: Wikipedia CC BY-SA 2.0

GCSB, the agency responsible for the network security of New Zealand, has denied Spark the use of Huawei telecommunication equipment in Spark’s rollout of 5G network, unless Spark and Huawei can come up with solutions that can allay the security concerns of GCSB. Spark, at this point, is the only telecommunication provider in New Zealand intending to develop a commercial 5G network beginning in 2020. Huawei is one of the few technology partners capable of supplying the necessary 5G network equipment. Vodafone, as the other major telecommunication provider in New Zealand, decided to partner with Nokia for their own 5G network, but has no date on public rollout.

Andrew Little, as minister for GCSB, tried to say as little as possible about the decision. Everybody else assumed that it is because of the fear that Huawei is a front company (“trojan horse”), or has close association with, the Chinese government, and therefore poses a security risk of Chinese government spying on New Zealand. Huawei, on the other hand, denied any wrong doing.

In my opinion, the demonstration of the security risk comes not from Huawei, but what the US government did. According to Edward Snowden, most of our communications on Google and Facebook are already under surveillance of NSA. The tactics used are both covert and overt: sometimes the US government secretly hacked the connection of Google and Facebook to the internet, sometimes they openly compel the companies to allow access to their clients (i.e. us the end users). For New Zealand in particular, Snowden specifically claimed that he could access communications of New Zealanders when he was working with NSA. However I do not want to get into whether GCSB facilitates in any of the spying of NSA, because it is another can of worms.

Equally important is the FBI attempt to compel Apple to create backdoor access in iPhones. Ostensibly to allow access to the iPhone of one terrorist, FBI wants to introduce a security vulnerability to millions of Apple devices. However, if the FBI did not withdraw the attempt as it did, it could have set a precedent that every Apple device can be accessed by the US government.

Coming back to the 5G network in New Zealand, for the sake of argument we can even assume that Huawei has no association with the Chinese government. In any case, Huawei has a strong business case to NOT have any association with the Chinese government, just like Apple has a strong business case to not allow US government backdoor access to Apple devices. That still leaves open the possibility that, as a Chinese company, Huawei will be compelled by Chinese law to create backdoor to their own 5G network equipment, unwillingly like Apple, to facilitate Chinese intelligence gathering like that of NSA. Given the secrecy of Chinese government, there will be no public outcry like that of Apple and the American public against the FBI. Nor are there likely be whistle blowers like Snowden: such persons in China would likely disappear without a trace, just like many human rights and environmental activists in China.

Most importantly, just as it is wrong for the US government to monitor communication and violate our own and their own citizens’ right to privacy, it is just as wrong as if the Chinese government does it to us or to their own citizens. For geopolitical reasons, we in New Zealand may think because we are in the Five Eyes intelligence network, therefore we are relatively safe from American spying. Snowden’s revelations shattered that cozy fantasy. Or we have no choice but to acquiesce to the US government. However, in the internet and social media age, this violation of privacy is an unacceptable threat to our freedom.

The government, without just cause, has no right to know what we do in the privacy of our own home, where we express ourselves without harming others. By the same token, the government also has no right to know the photos we posted on Instagram or Facebook, nor the searches we conducted on Google, nor the emails we wrote. We choose what and how our own images and communication are shared to which of our friends and families over the internet. The government, or any government, has no right to access any of that.

Privacy is freedom, and if we are denied our privacy, we are denied of our freedom. (I also have something to say about the business practices of Facebook et. al. selling out our own private data, but it is for another time and will leave you with only this.)