The United States has been unsuccessful at getting European countries to ban Huawei from building their fifth-generation wireless (5G) networks. It’s not for a lack of trying. Washington has used a variety of approaches to attempt to win Europe’s support on this issue. Washington has tried leading by example, hoping its decision to ban Huawei from U.S. networks would prompt Europe to do the same. U.S. officials have discussed providing subsidies to those countries that purchase 5G equipment from Huawei’s competitors. They have threatened to reduce intelligence sharing if Europe integrates Huawei into its telecommunications infrastructure. They have also highlighted the risks of espionage and threat to critical infrastructure that arise from the use of Huawei equipment. But there is a tactic that the United States hasn’t yet tried—data privacy. Talking to Europe about data privacy and pointing out the risks that Huawei would pose to Europe’s data privacy standards could resonate and help peel Europe away from the technology company.
Europe has long prioritized data privacy. In response to a long history of communist and fascist surveillance of its citizens, Europe has since viewed data privacy as a human right. No one knows this better than the U.S. government and private companies in America. Europe bitterly resisted the United States’ implementation of the Passenger Name Record, which requires the collection of airline passenger data for law enforcement purposes, due to a fear that it endangered data privacy. Edward Snowden’s revelation of the National Security Agency’s spying on European governments sparked outrage and demands for greater oversight of European intelligence agencies who cooperate with the NSA. The EU’s data privacy crusade even focused on private U.S. firms, most recently with Facebook over the Cambridge Analytica scandal of 2014 and other privacy concerns.