White House distances itself from US nationalised 5G idea

Following rumours the US Government was going to nationalise a 5G network, White House officials and the FCC have hit back rubbishing the claims.

Several White House officials have confirmed to various news outlets the proposal was nothing more than blue-sky thinking from a staff member at the National Security Council, and shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Alongside this denial from the Trump administration, the FCC has also been relatively vocal in opposition.

“I oppose any proposal for the federal government to build and operate a nationwide 5G network,” said Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

“The main lesson to draw from the wireless sector’s development over the past three decades – including American leadership in 4G – is that the market, not government, is best positioned to drive innovation and investment.”

It should hardly be surprising that Pai, irrelevant as to whether he is a Trump puppet or not, is opposed to such a proposal. Considering he has almost single handed dismantled net neutrality rules, removing some regulatory barriers for carriers, it would be incredibly contradictory for the US Government to take such a dominant position in deploying and managing 5G infrastructure. Even so, this is also an issue which has seemingly been able to unite Republican and Democrat Commissioners.

“The United States’ leadership in the deployment of 5G is critical and must be done right,” said Democrat Commissioner Mignon Clyburn. “Localities have a central role to play; the technical expertise possessed by industry should be utilized; and cybersecurity must be a core consideration. A network built by the federal government, I fear, does not leverage the best approach needed for our nation to win the 5G race.”

While the White House was keen to distance itself from any real policy, we don’t quite believe it all. Considering the detail that went into the proposal, it would have at least have had to been greenlighted by someone for a bit of exploratory research. An off-cuff idea was probably raised, a minion told to do some research and then the memo intentionally leaked to get an idea on how it would be received.

The culture of leaking in politics is relatively common, and should you believe the sceptics, it is done intentionally to measure the reception of some more radical ideas. An intentionally leaked documents offers arm’s length should it be a bad idea, or the chance to claim responsibility should the reaction be positive. As you can see below, it certainly wasn’t.

“There is nothing that would slam the brakes more quickly on our hard-won momentum to be the leader in the global race for 5G network deployment more quickly than the federal government stepping-in to build those networks,” said Jonathan Spalter, CEO of broadband association USTelecom.

Industry and the media didn’t like this idea, so everyone is scrambling to get as far away as possible from the toxic memo. There will still be some voices of support for such an idea, as it is believed a federally controlled asset would offer greater security against the Chinese (who clearly only think about spying on the US), but these individuals will be restricted to the shadows of the White House. Of course, there will be some government prying and intervention, though it will be months before we figure out how much.

Whether it was an actual idea from the geniuses behind the US/Mexico wall is irrelevant. The positives which can be taken away from this is that the government is going to be kept away from building a critical piece of infrastructure. Leave the complicated jobs of building the network to those who know what they are doing and let the bureaucrats sit in their corner playing with red ribbons and brown paper envelopes.

Microsoft gets support of privacy groups in battle against US

Privacy International has filed an amicus brief on behalf of 26 organizations in support of Microsoft’s battle against the US and the sticky fingers of its intelligence agencies.

This is a court case which has been ongoing for some time, as Microsoft has resisted the demands of the US government in handing over data which is stored on servers in Ireland. While the government believes as a US company Microsoft should hand over whatever it demands, Microsoft has been standing firm, stating it believes the US is overreaching considering the residence of the data and European data protection laws.

Late last week, Privacy International filed an amicus brief on behalf of itself and 26 human and digital rights organizations and legal scholars, supporting the tech giant.

Legal battles, such as this, are often long-drawn out affairs, where multiple do-gooders and glory chaser decide to add to the euphoria, because of the precedent which can be set. Very little of this case will concern the information which the US is currently trying to get its hands on, but if it is successful in this venture, the tracks will be laid for future pokes into personal and private information.

“Our brief further explains how the US Government’s position would set the stage for repeated violations of data-protection laws around the world,” Privacy International said in a statement.

“Approximately 120 countries have laws that specifically protect personal data. The US Government would similarly violate these laws in countless cases should it be given the authority to unilaterally seize data stored abroad. It would also place companies that provide online services in the untenable position of having to violate the laws of other countries in order to comply with warrants issued in the United States.”

The US often positions itself as the moral voice of the world, but only when that stance is consistent with domestic objectives. In this case, the US doesn’t seem to be bothered by the fact it would violate European data protection and privacy rules, because it has its own agenda and ambitions.

There are of course numerous objections which Privacy International has raised, but we feel this is one of the most important. Just because the process of storing information has changed does not mean a government has the right to impose its own standards and influence over citizens of other nations. Microsoft, irrelevant of its own drivers, is taking an important position against the government, which seems to want to head down the route of global Big Brother.

Naturally, there will be circumstances where such information will need to and should be handed over to the government, but there have been numerous examples over the last couple of months where governments are seeking a blank cheque to snoop. There is a fine line between safety and privacy, but it is crucial accountability and jurisdiction is maintained.

The US government should not be allowed to force cloud companies to hand over information when it violates the domestic regulations where the data has been sourced. Just because it has the biggest army, the biggest economy and the most expensive car, does not give it the right to judge whether laws in other nations are substandard to its own.

“Under principles of comity, courts determine how to apply US law without unreasonable interference with the sovereign authority of other nations,” the statement reads. “Since construing the Stored Communications Act to have extraterritorial application would conflict with the data protection laws of many governments around the world, comity principles militate against such an interpretation.”

We are encouraged by the Microsoft position and resistance to pressure, from a government which does occasionally present itself as a bully, and support from organizations such as Privacy International will only help the courts move to, what we believe, is the right decision.