U.S. President Barack Obama is getting a little hot under the collar, and we’re not talking about the speech that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave this morning. Instead, President Obama is troubled over new regulations that are being proposed by the Chinese government, which would affect American tech companies that conduct business within China’s borders.
President Obama is fearful that China’s plans — which include allowing the Chinese government to install security backdoors, requiring companies to hand over encryption keys, and keeping user data on Chinese soil — are an assault on intellectual property held by American companies and leaves customers open to privacy violations.
China’s draft proposal for the its anti-terrorism legislation "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," said President Obama in an interview with Reuters. "As you might imagine tech companies are not going to be willing to do that.”
U.S. President Barack Obama (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
President Obama stepped up the rhetoric, adding, "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.”
What’s somewhat amusing is that the U.S. government has been found to employ some of these same tactics not only abroad, but also on home turf. FBI Director James Comey has been an ardent critic of smartphone encryption employed by Google and Apple, seeing it as an affront to law enforcement and national security. The FBI has even requested that these companies provide encryption key access to make the jobs of law enforcement officers easier. And we can’t forget the extent of the U.S. government’s mass spying efforts that have been uncovered by Edward Snowden (most recently, the NSA and Britain’s GCHQ have been accused of hacking into SIM card maker Gemalto in an effort to further their respective spying efforts).
For its part, China is sticking to its guns with regards to the anti-terrorism legislation. “All countries are paying attention to and taking measures to safeguard their own information security,” said Hua Chunying, a spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry. “This is beyond reproach.”
Hua went on to point to the hypocrisy of Obama’s statements in light of the Gemalto incident, adding, “I would like to point out that China has consistently opposed using one’s superiority in information technology, or using IT products to support cyber surveillance.”
It should be interesting to see how this little spat between powerful nations plays out, but in the end we have the feeling that cooler heads will prevail.