China supports “digital authoritarianism” in Latin America

According to insider accounts and some international research, China’s technology and expertise have allowed Venezuela and Cuba to exercise choking control over digital communications in both countries.

Venezuela and Cuba are doing more to block Internet access than any other government in Latin America.

“Anyone who believes that privacy exists in Venezuela through email, Twitter, WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram is wrong. Anthony Dakin, a former adviser to Venezuela’s Department of Justice on computer security issues, said,” All of this. “Tools” are completely subject to government intervention.

From 2002 to 2008, Daquin joined a delegation sent by former President Hugo Chavez to China to learn how Beijing used software to identify Chinese citizens and implement a similar system in Venezuela.

File-At PT Expo in Beijing on October 31, 2019, a man standing near the display of Chinese technology company ZTE is looking at his smartphone.

The key to these efforts was the introduction of the “carnet de lapatria” or homeland card developed by the Chinese company ZTE in 2016. Although theoretically optional, possession of a card is required to access a wide range of products and services, from the appointment of a doctor to government pensions.

Cards were presented as a way to make public services and supply chains more efficient, but critics blamed them as a form of “citizen management.”

Daquin said China’s role in recent years has been to provide technical and technical assistance to help the Venezuelan government process large amounts of data and monitor those who it considers to be national enemies. Said.

“They have a TV camera system, fingerprints, facial recognition, internet and a word algorithm system for conversation,” he said.

According to Daquin, one of the few ways Venezuelans have to communicate electronically without government oversight is the encrypted messaging platform Signal, which is very costly for the government to control. I think it will take.

A former adviser said Venezuela’s digital surveillance structure is divided into five “rings”, “Ring 5 is the most trusted and 100% Chinese-supervised.”

According to Daquin, the government receives daily reports from monitors that underlie media censorship, Internet shutdowns, and arbitrary arrest decisions.

File-In this October 31, 2019 photo, a man standing near the sign of Chinese technology company Huawei is using a smartphone at PT Expo in Beijing.

File-In this October 31, 2019 photo, a man standing near the sign of Chinese technology company Huawei is using a smartphone at PT Expo in Beijing.

U.S. accusation against Chinese companies

Several Chinese technology companies are active in Venezuela, including ZTE, Huawei and China National Electronics Import & Export Corp. (CEIEC). The latter was due to the fact that activities in Venezuela helped President Nicolas Maduro’s government “restrict Internet services” and “perform digital surveillance and cyber operations against political opponents” in 2020. Approved by the ministry.

File-Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro will speak at a press conference in Caracas on December 8, 2020.

File-Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro will speak at a press conference in Caracas on December 8, 2020.

The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee also issued a warning in 2020. Big Brother, Chinese Digital Authoritarianism, Blame Chinese telecommunications companies for promoting “digital authoritarianism” around the world, citing Venezuela as a case study.

Specifically, the Commission mentions the existence of a team of ZTE employees working within the facilities of the state-owned telecommunications company CANTV, which maintains a national card database.

This document cites a study by Reuters, which allows CANTV employees to monitor a wide range of personal information from CANTV employees, including birthdays, family information, employment and income, property, medical care, and more. It is reported that it was reported. History, state interests received, social media presence, party membership, and whether a person voted. ”

“Maduro is making the most of China’s hardware and services to manage Venezuelan citizens,” the report said.

Sophisticated and simple internet blockade

According to Luis Carlos Diaz, chairman of the Venezuelan branch of the Internet Society, a U.S.-based nonprofit advocating the open development of the Internet, the Maduro government’s efforts to block access to the Internet by domestic adversaries It’s “very crude”.

He said government officials would only need to call the web portal operator to temporarily block website and social media outlets.

However, in 2019, Venezuela blocked Onion Router (TOR), one of the most sophisticated systems used worldwide to allow Internet users to remain anonymous and circumvent censorship. .. The platform sends messages over the server’s global network, so it is not possible to determine the origin of the message.

Diaz said that unlike other recurrent blockades in Venezuela, TOR hacks require a higher level of knowledge.

“There, I issued a warning because it was overly serious. It was used by the Venezuelan government in China to block users who have TOR, a tool used to circumvent censorship. It meant that he was using a technique like that, “he said.

The blockade of TOR lasted for a week, and Diaz suspects that the Venezuelan government did it alone because it lacked the highly trained people needed for such complex operations. ..

China’s role in Cuba

The Cuban internet infrastructure was also built with equipment acquired from a Chinese company. The Swedish organization Quurium, in a report released in early 2020, states that it has detected Huawie Sight network management software on the Cuban Internet. According to this organization, the purpose of this software is to help filter web searches.

Cuban dissidents say the only way to access pages censored by the island’s government is via a virtual private network or VPN, tricking the system into believing that the user is in another country. increase.

This is “the only way to access a controlled website,” said journalist Luz Escobar, in a separate digital news outlet that converts web content to PDF or newsletter and blocks content uploads. Email to a 14y Medio user. the Internet. But in Cuba, “few people master this technique,” she said.

Internet censorship in Cuba was investigated in 2017 by the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI), a volunteer-based organization that monitors Internet censorship around the world. The group said it could determine that a Chinese company had developed software for a public Wi-Fi portal on the island “because it left a comment on the Chinese source code.”

“We found that Huawei’s equipment is also widely used,” said Arturo Filastó, OONI’s project leader who visited Cuba and tested various government-provided Wi-Fi connection points.

Voice of America solicited comments from the three agencies in question (Cuba, Venezuela, and China), but did not receive a response from any of them prior to publication.

China continues to lead countries with “authoritarian tendencies”

Freedom House said in a 2021 report on Internet censorship that Venezuelan officials attended Chinese government training and seminars on new media and information management with representatives from 36 countries, including Saudi Arabia and Syria. rice field.

China organized forums such as the World Internet Conference in 2017, “giving that norm to authoritarian governments,” the report concluded.

Justin Sherman, an information security expert at the Atlantic Council’s Cyber ​​Statecraft Initiative, said Chinese companies such as Huawei and ZTE are “involved in creating Internet censorship surveillance programs for governments and intelligence agencies, not just in Venezuela, but around the world. I told VOA. And the police agency. ”

Sherman said it is not clear whether Chinese companies are selling surveillance technology to authoritarian governments solely for the benefit. A paper in the 2020 Senate Foreign Affairs Committee report states that there is an interest in China beyond the sale of technical services in order to expand the policy of “digital authoritarianism in the world.”

This article originates from VOA’s Latin American division.

China supports “digital authoritarianism” in Latin America

Source link China supports “digital authoritarianism” in Latin America

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