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Research Question

  1. How does the public perceive 5G technologies?

Public perceptions of emerging technologies, such as fifth-generation (5G) communication, can affect the adoption of these technologies. Integrating 5G wireless technologies into the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) mission could increase the safety, efficiency, and effectiveness of efforts to support DHS's responsibilities to safeguard critical infrastructure and conduct missions across the homeland security enterprise. These potential benefits could be delayed or prevented if there are significant public concerns about the use of 5G technology and technology enabled by 5G.

Research is needed to understand these public perceptions and their potential impact on DHS mission effectiveness and to design a path forward for the most-effective research, development, procurement, and employment of emerging 5G technologies. Understanding the relationship between public perceptions and 5G technologies (including relevant conspiracy theories and concerns about data collection and privacy more generally) could help increase the likelihood that the public will embrace 5G applications and expedite the transition of the technology and the associated benefits, such as securing critical infrastructure. Understanding the public perceptions of government and public use of these technologies could also help DHS mitigate these perceptions' potential negative impacts on mission effectiveness.

To investigate these perceptions of 5G technologies, researchers used a combination of literature review, social network and lexical analysis, reviews of existing data and studies in the commercial space, interviews, focus groups, workshops, and expert panel interviews. This report summarizes their findings and recommendations.

Key Findings

  • 5G applications could improve DHS's ability to protect critical infrastructure in ways that the public will observe in airports, border crossings, and emergency services. However, little information has been disseminated about how DHS intends to use 5G.
  • People have little awareness of intended applications and 5G's potential risks or benefits to the security mission or other aspects of their lives. They are concerned about privacy but have little awareness or concern about specific 5G applications.
  • Public awareness and perceptions about 5G for security are likely to change as more details about applications are released. Public perceptions should be tracked and continuously reassessed.
  • Privacy-related concerns about 5G are likely to resemble those about other technology. People worry more about these privacy issues with data in corporate hands than in government hands.
  • Many 5G conspiracy theories exist, some of which have been connected to violence. However, most of the public does not engage with these theories.
  • The volume and magnitude of conspiracy beliefs can change quickly because of environmental factors and should be monitored as new technologies are integrated.

Recommendations

  • Collect and analyze more data to understand key issues related to public perceptions of technology integration, including measures of baseline levels of trust in technology, confidence in DHS, and privacy issues.
  • Perform additional research to identify concerns of different demographic and geographic segments to tailor communication plans.
  • Clarify government capabilities and intentions before misperceptions and conspiracy theories become widespread. In messaging, emphasize that legal frameworks govern DHS collection and use of data and that, as technology evolves, protections will evolve with it.
  • To prepare for the next wave of technology and attendant public perceptions, undertake a study on the implications that sixth-generation (6G) development could have on 5G and public perceptions.

This research was sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate and conducted in the Management, Technology, and Capabilities Program of the RAND Homeland Security Research Division.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

RAND is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.