Obama's hypocritical stance on China's plan to require backdoors in tech products
President Obama wants China to know that the United States government is the only one that can ask Western tech companies to include backdoors in their consumer products.
Obama told Reuters that China's mandates "would essentially force all foreign companies, including U.S. companies, to turn over to the Chinese government mechanisms where they can snoop and keep track of all the users of those services." That, obviously, would be bad.
But the most telling part of the interview came from Obama's remarks on tech companies' willingness to hand over such access to a government -- not a "foreign" government, just "a government" -- despite increasing pressure to do so. As he explained to Reuters:
Those kinds of restrictive practices I think would ironically hurt the Chinese economy over the long term because I don’t think there is any U.S. or European firm, any international firm, that could credibly get away with that wholesale turning over of data, personal data, over to a government.That's interesting, considering the US has been attempting to gain such access to tech platforms for the last several years, and FBI Director James Comey has been lobbying to force tech companies to include backdoors in their consumer products. Sound familiar?
Those efforts prompted a group of Congressmen, led by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), to introduce a bill that would prevent the FBI from requiring the creation of those backdoors.
The government simply can't have it both ways. It can bully tech companies into creating these backdoors and accept that foreign governments will do the same or exploit those made for the US; or it can require tech companies to protect consumer data, full stop.
Which means Obama's remarks -- and similar comments made by other government officials -- are nothing more than hypocritical posturing. And until that changes, I doubt China is going to take the president's criticisms seriously. Why listen to a hypocrite?
[illustration by Brad Jonas]