Under these circumstances, 5G is not indifferent to the result. It creates a world in which profiling and surveillance are more present and pervasive; a giant step on the road to social techno-control.
Recent articles have broad and comprehensive reviews into technological aspects of 5G and provide overviews of potential killer applications deployed by these next-generation networks. Criticism over 5g rarely approaches privacy issues.
5G as Software Defined Radio
There is a critical aspect concerning the single feature that makes 5G different from any other fixed or mobile network so far installed on such a large scale.
5G networks are software things. Programming defines communication specifications as well as operations.
In the panorama of widespread communications networks, this is an absolute novelty. The technology is powerful as it adapts well to the evolution of the conditions of use, but it’s risky. Malfunctions, programming errors, unreliability and, of course, deliberate attacks are common issues in software. All elements of the 5G network are computationally active elements and therefore under someone’s remote control.
The new generation communication networks share with the IoT products the intrinsic weaknesses of the software-defined systems. Producers and operators must pay more attention to safety aspects.
The safety of current transmission antennas essentially focuses on ensuring the physical protection of the equipment. In 5G nets, this will no longer be the case. Operators have to push themselves in new fields of expertise. They must be proficient not only on physical and digital protection of the equipment distributed throughout the territory but also on the careful choice of equipment to minimize systemic risks.
The security of the new mobile networks will therefore extend to multiple levels beyond the operational and configuration ones that are nowadays the responsibility of the current network operators. Security will not only lie in the implementation (i.e. the software) but also in the standards adopted. Standards weaknesses, bad (or voluntarily malicious) interpretations will play a fundamental role in protecting the value of the overall communication system on a global level.
The biggest problem facing the legislators of Europe and the United States today in the evaluation of new communication technologies is this.
Where does your router come from and who controls it?
The origin of the technologies matters because no operator will ever be able to boast complete autonomy from the producers. The criterion of the reliability of a network cannot be based only on its technical features. Considerations of a strategic and non-technical nature should be taken in the account, like for instance the diversification of equipment deployed in the local areas.
An entire area (for example a country) can be affected by blackouts, malfunctions, or cyber-attacks as a whole if multiple carriers use equipment from a single manufacturer.
The crackdown is likely to affect people’s lives, all self-driven vehicles, telemedicine and control facilities, etc., etc..
As a countermeasure, different players could cover the same territory with equipment from several producers, to allow rerouting in case of problems. That, however, conflicts with the freedom of choice and freedom of enterprise.
The origin of the producers is becoming more and more relevant. So their reliability in terms of trust in the overall safety model.
That is asserted, somewhat simplistically, as the problem of access of Chinese manufacturers (Huawei, ZTE) to global networks. It is beyond any doubt, a systemic defect and can not go unnoticed by the regulators.
As citizens, can we trust the 5G network?
Europe and US operators are cautious about the adoption of Chinese-derived technologies. This’ due to China’s digital authoritarianism, its cyber-attack facilities and direct relationships with national industries such as Huawei and ZTE. Also, the lobbying of Chinese delegates in UN bodies as the ITU to promote revisions of Internet protocols better suited to censorship plays a role.
However, techno-control, profiling and surveillance have no smaller champions on our side of the Great Chinese Firewall. Often those who are on our side have learned a lot by being comfortable at work with the Chinese censorship.
Today it is widely recognized that “surveillance capitalism” is one of the main driving forces for market exploitation.
The human experience in the form of big data is a raw material for commercial practices. These opaque, and mostly unknown to the surveyed, practices leads to unregulated power that challenges democracy and endangers our freedom with the domination of the immaterial economy.
The 5G extends the scope of the tools of exploitation well beyond the “last mile” and plugged exploitation and control into the same things we use.
The legislation which shields the citizen from profiling is still remarkably sloppy. It is unlikely that Parliaments will improve it in time for 5G networks to spread. The very concept of privacy, even with the considerable progress made with GDPR, fails to guarantee against the monetization of privacy and human experience.
Unfortunately, there is no dilemma in these innovations. Despite all their positive aspects, they impose more and more chains to the citizen. Individual freedoms seem to be necessarily doomed to surrender in our society.
The Great Chinese Firewall seems not to separate this perspective.
5G is coming with all its real or hypothetical usefulness. In the narrative that accompanies it, no one ever makes clear the negative effect on citizens’ privacy, civil rights and in the end, the freedom of us all.