JAMAICA | Would the Andrew Holness gov't use Huawei technology to spy on its citizens

JAMAICA | Would the Andrew Holness gov't use Huawei technology to spy on its citizens

MONTEGO BAY,  October 25, 2022 - Huawei Technologies Co, the world’s largest telecommunications company, has captured the attention of Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who recently helped to strengthen the Chinese giant’s presence in Jamaica by opening new offices and investment worth some  $300 million dollars. 

This new investment will continue the company’s digital transformation and further expands its footprint locally as well as in the Caribbean.

‘Huawei provides cutting-edge connectivity that has played an essential role in the growth of wireless technology and improves data penetration with LTE implementations,’ he underlined.

But what is interesting about the Chinese technology giant, is that it also for quite some time, has dominated African markets, where it has sold security tools that governments have used for digital surveillance and censorship.

A recent Wall Street Journal investigation said that technicians of the Chinese phone company helped African governments spy on political opponents.

According to the Journal “Technicians from the Chinese powerhouse have, in at least two cases, personally helped African governments spy on their political opponents, including intercepting their encrypted communications and social media, and using cell data to track their whereabouts, according to senior security officials working directly with the Huawei employees in these countries.”

At the apex of the Chinese offering in Latin America and the Caribbean is the concept of “smart cities.” People’s Republic of China (PRC) based companies are behind half of the world’s “smart cities” projects, and the concept has received considerable attention and support by Chinese President Xi. 

According to US Southern Command, there are currently 10 major “smart cities” initiatives underway in the region.

While the composition of smart cities varies widely, it generally involves the integration of numerous different digital services from surveillance architectures to transportation systems to smart pay devices, to public utility management, to emergency response and alerts against disasters, providing the operator unprecedented opportunities for gathering movement, financial, and other intelligence on the residents and others operating in the cities.

Over in Georgetown, there is a database being compiled by the Huawei Smart City System in Guyana.

Robin Singh, a social commentator who has significant experience in technologyRobin Singh, a social commentator who has significant experience in technology“The Smart City system is not simply cameras; it is facial recognition; people and vehicle tracking; it is the gathering and use of data to identify our habits; our associates; Data is any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural (living) person, including names, dates of birth, photographs, video footage, email addresses and telephone numbers.

“Other information such as IP addresses and communications content-related to or provided by end-users of communications services – are also considered personal data,” says Robin Singh, a social commentator who has significant experience in technology in an interview with Kaiteur News.

“He pointed out that Cambridge Analytica boasted of using 5,000 data points to create a profile of an individual that could be used to influence them to buy products or vote for a particular political party for example.

“Cambridge Analytica Ltd is a British political consulting firm, which combined data mining, data brokerage, and data analysis with strategic communication during the electoral processes.

“Huawei built our national network and is engaged in managing the Smart City system whose scope is not public knowledge. 

“The Huawei Artificial Intelligence software ‘Deep Learning’ cannot be run on a laptop or small server bank…It requires serious computing power, the likes of which is not available in Guyana,” Singh lamented.

The Wall Street Journal article noted that “since 2012 the U.S. government has accused Huawei

of being a potential tool for the Chinese government to spy abroad, after decades of alleged corporate espionage by state-backed Chinese actors. Huawei has forcefully denied those charges.

The Journal  said its investigation “didn’t turn up evidence of spying by or on behalf of Beijing in Africa. Nor did it find that Huawei executives in China knew of, directed or approved the activities described. It also didn’t find that there was something particular about the technology in Huawei’s network that made such activities possible.”

Details of the operations, however, offer evidence that Huawei employees played a direct role in government efforts to intercept the private communications of opponents, the Journal said.

However, according to the Journal, Huawei’s founder, Ren Zhengfei, publicly denied in January that the company spied on behalf of the Chinese government. It was the launch of a global public-relations blitz to counter negative press sparked by the arrest in Canada of Huawei’s CFO and a Trump administration pressure campaign to persuade allies to ban Huawei gear from next-generation 5G networks.

“Neither Huawei, nor I personally, have ever received any requests from any government to provide improper information,” Mr. Ren said at a gathering of foreign journalists.

There is no evidence that there were any plans by the Andrew Holness led Jamaican government to seek to use the Huawei Jamaican facilities to spy on its opponents, journalists or engage in any nefarious activities against its citizenry.

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