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Research Question

  1. How should the United States seek to balance the potential gains of the 5G era with the potential loss of privacy and of control of personal data?

Fifth-generation (5G) wireless networking will increase the scale of wireless networks by an order of magnitude or more. Perhaps nothing exemplifies the future of the 5G era more than the ubiquitous surveillance that is gathering more and more-diverse data on people. Even before the 5G era, data were seen as a source of new economic value.

The number of automated sensors and devices connected to wireless networks will grow in the next few years by an order of magnitude or more. Increasingly, these networks will inform artificial-intelligence algorithms, which will then autonomously make decisions and take actions — with humans directly involved only infrequently. In this report, researchers discuss how the United States should seek to balance the potential gains of the 5G era with the potential loss of privacy and of control of personal data.

Key Findings

  • As the volume, variety, and velocity of data gathered increase dramatically, both the value and the risk are likely to increase as well.
  • In the 5G era, a government could expand and automate its surveillance for infectious-disease monitoring and translate that surveillance into controls of day-to-day activity.
  • In the 5G era, law enforcement has more information than ever before, which it can fuse together a lot more quickly.
  • The 5G era, with increased bandwidth for more-connected devices, will likely continue the trend of the collection and utilization of personal data by firms, both large and small, and could contribute to a ubiquitous mobile surveillance environment.


  • Adopt an explicit principle for widespread data use during the 5G era that any potential uses of data be identified, well defined, and agreed upon before data are collected and analyzed.

Funding for this research was made possible by the independent research and development provisions of RAND's contracts for the operation of its U.S. Department of Defense federally funded research and development centers. The research was conducted by the Acquisition and Development Program within the Homeland Security Research Division.

This commentary is part of the RAND expert insight series. RAND Expert Insights present perspectives on timely policy issues. All RAND Expert Insights undergo peer review to ensure high standards for quality and objectivity.

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