The NSA and US tech giants have come to blows over government backdoors in encryption products lately, with the government arguing that backdoors are vital to national security, and the likes of Yahoo claiming it will make encryption pointless. Well, it looks the party line on backdoors changes pretty sharpish when China is involved.
As Reuters reports, China is considering a counter-terrorism law that would require technology firms to surrender encryption keys and install backdoors for security services — something that’s not exactly dissimilar to the NSA activities revealed by Edward Snowden. But in an impressive piece of hypocrisy, the US
Michael Froman, the US trade representative, claims that “the rules aren’t about security — they are about protectionism and favouring Chinese companies … the administration is aggressively working to have China walk back from these troubling regulations.”
But it’s difficult to ignore the fact that the U.S. has undertaken nearly identical actions in the past — the PRISM program forces major tech companies to hand over access to their servers to the NSA, via a “specially constructed backdoor”, and in a well-publicised case, even forced secure email provider Lavabit to hand over encryption keys and SSL keys.
The proposed Chinese regulations would make things easier for the Chinese government — encryption keys would be handed over as a matter of form, rather than on request — but the end result is basically identical. Something about chickens coming home to roost would be appropriate about now. [Reuters]
Illustration by Tara Jacoby