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The Big Picture

The US ban on Huawei on security grounds may have an unenviable impact, but such challenges can only be resolved if nations opt for greater cooperation and coordination.
Kazim Rizvi and Mrittika Sarkar    New Delhi     Print Edition: June 16, 2019
The Big Picture

On May 15, 2019, the US government signed an executive order to ban American companies from using telecommunication products developed by Huawei, a premier telecom company in China. This comes on the heels of the US intelligence community, private firms and scholarly circles voicing their concerns against Chinese espionage.

Although the Chinese government does not own the company, it is believed that the Chinese State exercises significant influence over its operations. This development comes amid a growing trade war between the US and China and confirms that the 'tech cold war' is now in full swing between the two leading economies. This could give rise to a digital iron curtain that might end up separating the world into two distinct and exclusive technological ecosystems. The move is certainly unprecedented and raises questions on governments interfering with business models globally, but at the same time, explains the need to secure the digital infrastructure from potential external threats.

Chinese Tech a Security Threat?

The year 2019 witnessed unprecedented moves against Chinese technology companies as a result of security concerns triggered by Chinese equipment, products or services. Earlier, India banned Tik Tok (it was since lifted), and now Japan and the UK are following the US. The US ban is set to affect the company and the tech environment in a bigger way, but it is yet to be seen whether the world will be divided into two major technology fronts in the coming decade. With the Internet and the digital ecosystem pervading every aspect of human life, one should wait and see the impact of such blacklisting on the economies.

Global Co-operation Required

The US move throws light on the growing realm of cybercrimes, their perilous implications and the need to up cybersecurity initiatives across the entire global community. Although countries may be divided on how to secure networks, cybersecurity remains a top challenge that can only be resolved with greater co-operation and co-ordination. Securing the cyberspace has become fundamental to protect democratic institutions, economy, free speech and idea flow, as well as privacy, safety and security of people. Countries should come forward and work together to protect international cyberspace. The Paris Call for Trust and Security is one such step, a political declaration that attempts to bring nations together to enhance cyberspace stability, applicability of international laws and the ability to prevent cyberattacks. Rather than harbouring scepticism, we need greater trust and confidence among nations to prevent cyberattacks and safeguard our critical infrastructure against hacks.

India Needs New Policy

With the coming of the new government, India must revise its cybersecurity policy that came out in 2013 - too long an interlude in this era of the Internet. Also, cybersecurity is closely linked with national security. As the world is getting more connected with the rise of digital economies, having a coherent strategy on cybersecurity is a must to move forward economically. As the new government takes charge, India needs a revised approach towards securing its cyberspace from threats, which should have an institutional framework to ensure the country's digital safety.

From a mere statement of principles and ideas, the new policy must evolve to operationalise cybersecurity and involve training, standard enhancements, a greater number of private-public partnerships and civil-military co-operation within the government. Moreover, security, by default, must become the norm for digital products and services in India.

Kazim Rizvi is Founding Director, The Dialogue, a think tank working at the intersection of technology, society and public policy. Mrittika Sarkar is a Policy Consultant at The Dialogue

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