Cybersecurity in a 5G world and misinformation spread by “malign actors” are part of the pressing challenges of Internet governance, American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Director Brent Christensen told a forum in Taipei yesterday, reiterating his warning about the impact of “foreign interference” in Taiwan’s elections.
Christensen made the remarks at the opening of the two-day Taiwan Internet Governance Forum held at Chunghwa Telecom’s headquarters.
With Taiwan scheduled to hold presidential and legislative elections on Jan. 11 next year, the AIT has been cautioning about the impact of foreign intervention and misinformation on the polls, although it has repeatedly said that it is maintaining a neutral stance toward the elections.
The US House of Representatives Permanent Committee on Intelligence on Thursday last week passed a draft Intelligence Authorization Act for fiscal year 2020, which unprecedentedly requires the head of US intelligence to report efforts by China to influence next year’s elections in Taiwan.
“As Russian attempts to interfere in the 2016 US presidential election and credible reports of foreign interference in the 2018 local elections in Taiwan demonstrate so vividly, we are in a new era,” Christensen said, calling for more attention to efforts by “malign actors” to prevent people from distinguishing fact from fiction.
Highlighting cybersecurity as one of the pressing challenges for Internet governance, he said the use of Chinese-made telecommunications equipment, software and services have concerned the US and like-minded partners.
“If China controls the 5G infrastructure, it will have the undeniable ability to steal the data that flows on these networks, and even shut down the Internet of other countries if they wanted to,” he said.
While Taiwan banned Chinese-made telecommunications equipment from its infrastructure more than five years ago — a “wise example” that many other countries have begun to follow — the risks could extend to Internet of things if malign actors are able to manipulate source code and software updates, he said.
Taiwan has a critical role to play in Internet governance discussions, provided it is a digitally connected vibrant democracy that is also central to Internet hardware and software supply chains, he said.
He expressed the hope that the forum would voice “an uncompromising rejection of using digital technologies to restrict the freedom of millions of religious minorities” and uphold democratic values, such as the rule of law, multi-stakeholder governance, protection of citizen privacy and Internet freedom.
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