Undersecretary Jose Fernandez’s Remarks at the 2021 Prague 5G Conference

30 NOVEMBER 2021, 0950AM EST

Good morning. I am pleased to speak to you at the Prague 5G Security Conference today. I want to thank our hosts and Karel Rehka of the National Cyber and Information Security Agency, for championing this important event and the work here.

Before I address the topic at hand, let me also acknowledge the seriousness of the COVID-19 situation in many parts of the world, including within the Czech Republic. We all would have preferred to be physically present in Prague as many of us had planned, but I am pleased to participate virtually today. Hopefully, we will meet in person in 2022.

Three years ago, the Chairman’s statement at the first Prague 5G Security Conference set the standard for securing our telecommunications networks. In his statement, the Chair made clear that communications security is a national security issue, which needs to consider more than just technical threats. The statement stressed that communications security must also assess and respond to risks posed by government influence over suppliers, to ensure that the telecommunications infrastructure critical to national and economic security is underpinned by an appropriate level of security. His statement was forward-looking and highlighted the importance of a whole-of-nation approach, and of international cooperation, in doing so. Today, growing numbers of countries around the world, many of which are represented in this room, have endorsed the Prague Principles, and committed themselves to a shared, secure 5G future.

As the third Prague 5G Security Conference comes to life over these very networks today, our virtual presence underscores just how vital it is that these networks remain open, interoperable, reliable, and secure. There is no better reminder of the reliance we place on these networks than what we are doing today to connect to this conference.

As the Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment, I need to deal with issues ranging from climate change, to trade, to aviation, and more. Among these, telecommunications, and 5G in particular, is a top U.S. priority.

5G networks will underpin a whole host of new and emerging and disruptive technologies. But as you all know, 5G and beyond is about far more than just higher bandwidth and lower latency. As 5G begins to transform our world, it is vital that these technologies be built on a foundation of trust. That’s because the awesome melding of the cyber-physical world, built on 5G, 6G, and future networks, requires a new way of thinking and a new approach to ensure these technologies work for democracy. And so, the time to talk about the massive internet of things, autonomous systems, artificial intelligence, and big data advanced analytics is now.

We also need to talk about how these technologies can perpetuate the creativity, innovation, and constructive competition that have brought so many amazing advances into our lives. These emerging digital technologies will usher in advances we can scarcely imagine, and we cannot afford to wait until tomorrow to begin these conversations.

We are encouraged to see the Prague 5G Security Conference turn to the applications which 5G can support, such as emerging and disruptive technologies. The key focus, however, remains—appropriately—on the fundamental security of systems, which is expected to benefit from greater diversity within the supply chain and the greater resilience that diversity brings.

The U.S. government is committed to 5G security, and to security for future networks. Technology should support our freedom as well as our security, and that’s why 5G security and ensuring that 5G supports human rights is so important to us.

We must ensure respect for human rights, freedoms, and democratic values are woven into these technologies and networks from the beginning.

We must work now to prevent unlawful surveillance and discrimination as a result of using algorithms that become commonplace. And we cannot wait to act until a malign actor abuses its unique position to impact the security, reliability, confidentiality, and integrity of these networks, and the technologies built upon them.

Instead, we must begin to confront those threats by insisting on applying the highest standards. We need to implement the strongest principles to inform how these systems operate, including trust and responsible use of emerging technologies. We need digital freedom and inclusivity to bridge the digital divide, and to ensure that everyone is treated fairly and given an equal opportunity to participate in this global digital ecosystem.

The very first Prague 5G Conference Chairman’s statement noted that security is not only a technical issue, but that political actions, economic developments, and malign actors also affect network security. That was true then, and it is even more true today. So let’s keep in mind that security also includes the resilience of the telecommunications equipment supply chain, which has been undermined by extreme market consolidation—where we find ourselves down from more than 14 full stack equipment vendors in the 2G days to a very small number of trusted vendors today.

Ultimately, we must support and promote a vibrant and diverse marketplace of equipment and software vendors—to give the consumer the greatest range of choices, and to allow the best technical solutions to rise to the top. More market participants are needed, each bringing their best-in-class service and equipment—unique, perhaps, to their own countries’ circumstances, but with global application.

In short, secure networks are diverse networks. Diverse networks are resilient networks. Resilient networks foster innovative networks. And innovative networks will offer greater opportunity for all.

Interfaces—hardware and software alike—should be open and interoperable, allowing the best-in-class solution to achieve market success. These interfaces are key to allowing the connectedness, innovation, creativity, and constructive competition that ushered in the information age to continue to thrive as we prepare for emerging and disruptive technologies, and to bring about a future that used to be confined only to works of science fiction.

This conference, its participants, and the discussions we’ll have today and tomorrow are also key to preparing ourselves to meet that future and to prepare for a future of 5G, 6G, and the host of emerging and disruptive technologies that will run on those advanced networks.

Furthermore this conference, and its participants, are key to ensuring these networks are built on a foundation of trust; that they serve our citizens and promote opportunity and inclusion; protect our privacy; and bolster democracy and democratic values by design. We have no better partners with which to develop this new way of thinking than with those of you gathered here today.

At this third iteration of the Prague 5G Security Conference, let’s bring forward a compelling vision of technology that improves the convenience and effectiveness of our lives, and which works for all our citizens.

Our discussions and follow-up proposals this year will set the stage for enhancing 5G security. They will be a basis for future action, just as the Prague 2019 proposals were.

With this in mind, I am pleased that several governments participating in the conference this year have developed and supported the Prague proposals on telecommunications supplier diversity. This international effort is a great example of the compelling vision and partnership that can help to make 5G networks and systems more secure going into the future.

In closing, allow me to stress that together we have a chance to answer the question of how to secure our networks, strengthen openness and interoperability, encourage freedom of thought and expression, and defend against those who would misuse, not only their unique position supplying equipment to these 5G, 6G, and future networks, but also the emerging and disruptive technologies that will run on them.

Thank you for the chance to speak today. The United States is eager for closer engagement with all of you on these vital issues, now and in the future.