Why 5G Security Demands Public-Private Collaboration

We are in a global race to deploy 5G. Western democracies including the United States and Europe are battling China, a country with far different views about the role of tech. The stakes are high – we want the regulatory regime that prevails to be one that values privacy and personal freedoms. Not one that seeks to use tech to control its citizens.

The different approaches to freedom and privacy are seen in the Consumer Technology Association’s International Innovation Scorecard, an evaluation of 61 countries and the European Union across 28 indicators on innovation-friendly policies. China scores a D- in the category of Freedom – compared to America’s grade of B.

The rewards for a successful and secure 5G rollout in the United States and Europe will be enormous – promising wireless connection and download speeds 100 times faster than the previous generation of cellular service. 5G technology will power the next level of remote work, digital health, virtual and augmented reality, artificial intelligence, smart cities and more. All told, 5G will drive $13.2 trillion in economic activity by 2035.

But 5G’s transformative potential also brings unique security risks. 5G networks will support many more device connections than 4G, creating an interconnected world. More connections at higher speeds mean bad actors can reach exponentially more targets. Building a secure 5G network demands a new approach to cybersecurity — covering everything from supply chain security to broad protection across 5G’s distributed network of devices. It also requires considerable investment.

China knows this, so it is moving quickly in the race to 5G. The coronavirus crisis only accelerated China’s 5G rollout. China hopes a massive state-led push can keep costs down for Chinese businesses and facilitate Chinese 5G dominance. Conversely, America and other Western nations have long relied on private sector leadership combined with government collaboration. These values – combined with getting the right policies in place – should help the free world adopt 5G.

America is doing well in advancing comprehensive federal policy that streamlines 5G rollout in the United States to compete. And the United Kingdom recently announced a ban on Chinese telecom giant Huawei from its 5G rollout, creating a new opportunity for Ericsson and  Nokia – both based in democratic countries that rely on the free market rather than government control.

At CES 2020 – the world’s most influential technology event – we hosted a discussion with U.S. and European government leaders, addressing the need for trans-Atlantic cooperation to drive innovation. This candid conversation recognized the digital world has no physical barriers and the United States and European Union are aligned as partners on emerging technologies – whether that’s artificial intelligence, robotics or 5G connectivity.

The tech sector needs both clear technical standards and the right regulatory groundwork to accelerate the 5G rollout. Faced with the need for both private-sector innovation and public-sector collaboration in the 5G race, the United States and its allies know the best approach is also the most tried and true: government-facilitated, private industry leadership with partnerships and collaborations that span the private, public and international body sectors.

The United States has signaled its interest in developing such an approach – seen in the administration’s recent report on a national strategy for securing our 5G infrastructure. And when U.S. leadership asked for comment from the private sector on how to implement the report, CTA was direct with our feedback.

CTA has long embodied the private-public approach America needs. CTA co-leads, with USTelecom, one such private-public collaboration — the Council to Secure the Digital Economy. CSDE is a group of more than a dozen major companies focused on creating secure products and networks. We have convened important discussions and produced tools to aid companies and governments alike.

And cybersecurity is a longstanding priority for CTA. We and our member companies have supported public-private partnerships by participating in the sector coordinating councils for the IT and communications sectors and working with the FCC’s Communications Security, Reliability and Interoperability Council.

CTA’s work through these outlets demonstrates how private-sector leadership and public-sector collaboration build robust and effective processes for developing and securing new tech. CSDE coordinated closely with the Departments of Commerce and Homeland Security as industry executed private sector elements of its Botnet Road Map.

More, CTA convened a team of cybersecurity experts to draft a voluntary industry standard for a baseline for IoT device security. We continue to coordinate with these and other federal agencies. America’s global competitiveness on 5G rollout and security depends on this kind of collaboration.

Adopting a collaborative, multiple-stakeholder approach will ensure U.S. tech companies and government regulators can best address 5G’s national security risks, while still moving forward quickly and efficiently on 5G rollout. Some may argue that, like in China, more direct government involvement is necessary to address global competition or security risks. But private-sector standards development processes are some of the most rigorous in vetting new tech.

Our industry’s leadership drives the innovation that gives our nation its competitive edge. To maintain that global leadership, our government must support – without overregulating or directing – private sector participation in the security standards processes that will define the future of 5G.

When democracy wins, the world wins. U.S. innovation and leadership must set the terms for decades of technological and economic growth. But to make that future a reality, our leadership must continue to ensure that private industry and government regulators work hand-in-hand.

Anything less than that would be a concession, with serious consequences for U.S. global leadership – and a threat to democracies around the world.

Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,000 consumer technology companies, and a New York Times best-selling author. His views are his own.

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