In China, the government maintains control over the internet and all information and communication technology products and services provided by Chinese companies. According to Argentina-based news site TeleSemana, China has been using the technology of Huawei, a company closely linked to the Chinese government, to control and monitor the population.
In Latin America, Huawei is further developing its 5G networks. The concern, Juan Pablo Salazar, founding partner of Colombian law firm CyberLaw, told Diálogo on February 8, is that some of this technology could be used to violate the rights of people in countries that do not respect democracy.
“Telecommunications infrastructure is always a disputed area and it creates certain safeguards for states to develop self-protection mechanisms in terms of security, but also that can be used against freedom of expression, freedom of communication, and people’s rights,” Salazar said.
Thanks to Huawei’s products and technology, the Chinese government is continually perfecting its monitoring systems, TeleSemana reported. Regimes with little democratic credibility could extend their hold on power using this technology, by controlling the activity of the Latin American population, Salazar added.
“These types of governments would have digital dictatorships, and that’s what has to be avoided. We see it clearly in Venezuela and Nicaragua with the violation of the rights of journalists and communications,” Salazar said. “Possibilities are being created for dictatorships to be much stronger.”
The United States has long warned about the threats posed by the influence of this Chinese technology on information, intellectual property, and the economy, U.S. newspaper The Hill reported on February 5. According to TeleSemana, “Huawei functions as an extension […] of the Chinese Communist Party’s security.”
For 20 years, China, through Huawei, has been seeking to dominate the global telecommunications equipment sector. Along the way, it has engaged in a variety of dubious tactics to acquire technology and undermine its competitors, The Hill reported.
Huawei equipment is capable of intercepting and disrupting not only commercial cell phone traffic, but also highly restricted defense and military communications, CNN reported.
In Latin America, China already strongly dominates with its 3G, 4G, and 5G networks, TeleSemana reported. The Asian country has been taking advantage of interest for the technology in the region to deepen its influence, and claim global digital dominance, Costa Rican researcher and IT expert Pablo Gámez Cersosimo says in his book Digital Predators.
In a study, industry trade organization 5G America, composed of telecommunications service providers and manufacturers, points out that Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Peru, and Uruguay, already have a strong 5G deployment in the internet of things. Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba are managing with 4G and 3G network applications.
As part of China’s strategy to deepen its influence, Huawei has not only heavily invested or sponsored soccer teams in Latin America but has also delivered social aid through cloud systems to countries in the region, Gámez says in his book.
“In an infrastructure [such as 5G] that is totally interconnected, it’s very difficult to know at what point there may be [interference] from a private entity, in this case Huawei, when it comes to people’s rights,” Salazar said.
If it succeeds in imposing its 5G network in Latin America, China could control all documents, communications, and files, geolocation and other sensitive elements of the more than 620 million inhabitants of this region, including their administrations and main businessmen, Infobae reported.
For Salazar, “if a conflict, hypothetically, were to occur between China and the United States or with other countries, whoever holds the communications infrastructure can not only suspend connections, but also control the internet, and see who is hiding intelligence information firsthand.”
Salazar added that suspending communications “is not fiction” because it already happened in different cyberattacks, such as in Ukraine.
“The possibility and capability of the 5G network is that it is much more latent; at any moment it could be shut down or controlled by a third party state [such as China],” Salazar said. “There are big companies in Latin America that sold their telecommunications infrastructure for Huawei to manage as a third party.”
“Faced with this scenario, each state will have to make modifications to its regulations to ensure that people’s rights continue to be respected in this new network they are building,” Salazar concluded. “Here the U.N. could play a fundamental role to put consensus rules in this domain.”