When authoritarian governments misuse tech

It’s no secret that the People’s Republic of China uses the latest technology to monitor Chinese citizens at home and abroad — and does so with the express intention of maintaining Chinese Communist Party power by punishing any behavior they deem subversive or dangerous.

But what if other countries buy the same technology from Beijing for the same reason? It’s already happening. And it’s one of the reasons America is so concerned about 5G, the new fifth-generation wireless that will form the backbone of future economies and public services.

The concern is that Beijing could use 5G to further repress citizens and that other countries could too.

Flag fluttering near cameras mounted on post (© Andy Wong/AP Images)
A Chinese national flag near the surveillance cameras mounted on a lamp post in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. (© Andy Wong/AP Images)

Take a look at how some authoritarian regimes already suppress their citizens and how 5G might enable more human rights abuses.


Nicolás Maduro announced in June that the People’s Republic of China will help bring 5G technology to Venezuela, which will further allow the illegitimate leader to control Venezuelans’ lives.

Venezuelans’ internet usage and activity is already monitored and censored by the government, and infractions found to be in violation of statutes are punishable by law.

One of Maduro’s surveillance methods is the Fatherland Card, which is a combination voter identification card and mobile payment system built by his regime with the help of ZTE, a Chinese telecom firm. The card tracked those who voted for Maduro’s Socialist party and rewarded them with access to food and services. Those who did not vote for Maduro were unable to access basic social welfare programs. This is one example of Maduro using both Chinese-furnished technology and basic necessities as a weapon against the people of Venezuela.

Maduro also indicated that his regime is taking steps to build and launch the Guaicaipuro satellite, the third that Venezuela will have with the support of China, the Associated Press reported.

Person looking at card and writing on paper (© Fernando Llano/AP Images)
A member of the ruling United Socialist Party takes note of the Fatherland Card of a voter outside a voting center in Venezuela. (© Fernando Llano/AP Images)


The Chinese telecommunication company Huawei has been providing services to Iran for years. If Huawei begins to roll out its 5G technology in Iran, the Iranian regime will be equipped with the newest technology to spy on, track, and control its people.

Iran ranked second only to the People’s Republic of China as the worst abuser of internet freedom in Freedom House’s 2019 “Freedom on the Net: The Crisis of Social Media” report. Iranian authorities “have boasted of a 42,000-strong army of volunteers who monitor online speech” of Iranian citizens, the report states.

Recently, the Iranian government shut down the internet for 136 hours as its citizens protested higher gas prices. The regime used the internet blackout to hide atrocities, including scores of deaths.

Women walking past damaged building (© Vahid Salemi/AP Images)
Women walk past a building damaged during recent protests in Shahriar, Iran. (© Vahid Salemi/AP Images)

“Huawei and ZTE cannot be trusted,” U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr wrote in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission on November 13. “At this critical moment … we should not signal that Huawei and ZTE are anything other than a threat to our collective security.”