Can Trust Be Verified? Managing 5G Risk in Southeast Asia

Trust but verify. That mantra from nuclear-weapons negotiation discourse during the Cold War is newly relevant today. Versions of the advice are circulating among governments in Southeast Asia and elsewhere as they weigh the security risks of partnering with this or that company to install the fifth-generation telecommunications technology known as 5G.

It is tempting to believe that a technical solution to the problem of unwanted risk exists — a clever digital tweak that will fully and permanently protect a 5G network’s users. It does not. The best one can hope for is a “good enough” balancing of faith and proof that is — arguably, not assuredly — reassuring and realistic. Characteristics of the network-offering company in its home country and of the network-purchasing government in its own country will shape the 5G seller-buyer bargain and its location. This will occur on an eventual spectrum of arrangements between the unwise and the unworkable: unverified trust at one extreme end, trust-eliminating verification at the other....

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