5G Privacy Risks addressed by the European Commission

Commission Recommendation on Cybersecurity of 5G networks sets an action plan for the Member States. We explore the main sources of 5G privacy risks.

According to Commission Recommendation on Cybersecurity of 5G networks, EU Member States should by the 30th June 2019 carry out a risk assessment of 5G network infrastructure, including identifying the most sensitive elements where security breaches would have a significant negative impact. By the same date, Member States should also review the security requirements and the risk management methods applicable at national level, to take into account cybersecurity threats that may arise from (i) technical factors, such as the specific technical characteristics of 5G networks, and (ii) other factors such as the legal and policy framework to which suppliers of information and communications technologies equipment may be subject in third countries.

A toolbox will further be agreed at the EU level that will include a risk inventory and a set of possible mitigating measures (e.g. third-party certification for hardware, software or services, formal hardware and software tests or conformity checks, processes to ensure access controls exist and are enforced, identifying products, services or suppliers that are considered potentially not secure, etc.).

5G vs 4G privacy risks

Since we all already use 4G and 3G mobile networks, the key practical question is the comparison between 5G vs 4G privacy risks. Are there fundamental differences? Whereas there might be few qualitative differences, one can think of higher density of 5G cells that enable more precise user location information or the impact of potential network management decentralisation e.g. in relation to locally available 5G services. Mobile location issues are addressed by the EU ePrivacy Directive, soon to become ePrivacy Regulation.

According to Vesna Prodnik Pepevnik, CEO of Vafer and 5G mobile network expert, the main challenges will be linked to vertical applications, from autonomous vehicles and healthcare to energy and monitoring systems with various omnipresent sensors. “The more systems and therefore data are processed by 5G networks, the higher the risk.” In her view, the Commission’s 5G security proposals are currently vague, which might even prove to be an obstacle for certain 5G use cases and therefore the EU’s ambitions in relation to 5G.

It, therefore, remains to be seen to what extent will the proposed measures, including the expected toolbox, provide the necessary safeguards for the industry and trust for the end-users, which are both essential for 5G becoming a major driver for IoT applications.

Aphaia provides Data Protection Impact Assessment, including in relation to ePrivacy, and Telecommunications Policy and Regulation services

Bostjan Makarovic

Bostjan Makarovic is Aphaia's Founder. In addition to 14 years of industry experience, he holds Queen Mary, University of London PhD in legal regulation of NGN, London School of Economics and Political Science MSc in Environmental Policy and Regulation, and is IAPP-certified international privacy professional (CIPP/E).
Bostjan Makarovic

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