President Obama Complains To China About Demanding Backdoors To Encryption… As His Administration Demands The Same Thing

from the irony dept

Back in January, we pointed out that just after US and EU law enforcement officials started freaking out about mobile encryption and demanding backdoors, that China was also saying that it wanted to require backdoors for itself in encrypted products. Now, President Obama claims he’s upset about this, saying that he’s spoken directly with China’s President Xi Jinping about it:

In an interview with Reuters, Obama said he was concerned about Beijing’s plans for a far-reaching counterterrorism law that would require technology firms to hand over encryption keys, the passcodes that help protect data, and install security “backdoors” in their systems to give Chinese authorities surveillance access.

“This is something that I?ve raised directly with President Xi,” Obama said. “We have made it very clear to them that this is something they are going to have to change if they are to do business with the United States.”

This comes right after the US Trade Rep Michael Froman issued a statement criticizing China for doing the same damn thing that the US DOJ is arguing the US should be doing:

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman issued a statement on Thursday criticizing the banking rules, saying they “are not about security ? they are about protectionism and favoring Chinese companies”.

“The Administration is aggressively working to have China walk back from these troubling regulations,” Froman said.

Those claims would sound a hell of a lot stronger if they weren’t coming immediately after DOJ officials from Attorney General Eric Holder to FBI Director James Comey had more or less argued for the exact same thing.

Just last week, Yahoo’s chief security officer Alex Stamos raised this exact issue with NSA director Admiral Mike Rogers, asking if Rogers thinks it’s appropriate for tech companies to build backdoors for other countries if they build them for the US. Rogers ignored the question, just saying “I think we can work our way through this,” which is not an answer. And now we’re “working our way through this” by having to deal with other countries, such as China, leaping at this opportunity.

And the week before, President Obama himself claimed that he was all for strong encryption, but argued that there were tradeoffs worth discussing, and that some in his administration believed that demanding backdoors made sense to try to stop terrorist attacks. But it’s tough to see how he can claim that it’s okay to entertain those ideas on the one hand, while using the other hand to try to slap China for doing the exact same thing.

As security researcher Matthew Green rightly points out, “someday, US officials will look back and realize how much global damage they’ve enabled with their silly requests for key escrow.” But that day is apparently not today.

The administration keeps bleating on and on about how China is a massive cybersecurity “threat” out there, and then hands the country this massive gift by having a kneejerk reaction to better encryption that protects American citizens.

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Comments on “President Obama Complains To China About Demanding Backdoors To Encryption… As His Administration Demands The Same Thing”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Do what I say, not what I do

That poor man…

Assuming the conversation wasn’t simply the two of them having a hearty chuckle over their respective plans to undermine security, the Chinese president almost certainly pulled a muscle or two not laughing in Obama’s face(or likely over the phone) when Obama delivered the ‘Now if you keep doing the same thing we’re doing, there’s going to be problems’ ultimatum.

Really, it’s no wonder it’s so rare to see a politician with a sense of humor, not bursting out laughing at such hypocritical demands has got to take either utter self-control, or a complete lack of humor.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: And we thought the Clipper Ship sank with Clinton...

Our words are backed with NUCLEAR WEAPONS!

Oh, yeah? OUR words are backed by AES256 encryption and end-to-end encryption!

What is that you say? You sent us an encrypted message, would you send us the key?

Oh, right, sorry. Here ya go.

Thanks! And hey, this is the key your FBI and NSA use too! Woo! Thanks again!

David says:

This muppet is such an embarrassment

Seriously, one can’t believe he is even aware of half the stuff he is spouting. There need to be strict limits enforced on the number of corporate crime lords responsible for his cue cards on every given day.

There are only so many corners of your mouth you can be seen talking out of at the same time before appearing ridiculous.

andyroo says:

Re: Re: Re:

No i suspect Obama is just spouting what he is told to spout regarding this and other situations. One day he is told that the uS needs backdoors the next that encryption is important, the next that China is doing what the US government/DOJ is doing. Seriously the US has a very big problem right now and it is showing more and more when they act like psychopaths , people who believe everything they do is right but not when others do exactly the same thing for exactly the same reason.

The US is going to fall hard when they fall, the government at the moment is a complete failure they cannot agree on most things and rarely get anything done, yes we can argue that it is because the republicans hate the fact that a black man is president, they are obviously retarded but they were voted into power by the people and that say’s a lot about the political process.

No just like what they have done to Kim Dotcom recently their Justice system and political system needs a clear overhaul, and it is up to the people to demand it be done in the interests of the people, which i doubt will happen in today’s world where money makes laws, and where any protest is easily shut down by the propaganda spread throughout the government run media empire.

Philip Storry says:

And coincidentally...

The timing just couldn’t be better.

Remember when the USA had export controls, and strong cryptography was thought to be a military weapon rather than an enabler of trillions of dollars of economic activity?*

Well, that stone-age view of encryption just came back to bite everyone on the arse:

The brief version: your TLS secure connections to websites can be forced into the old “export only” weak key. Generating keys is expensive, so webservers tend to do it only once at startup. Once you force a connection to work in export mode, you can break the encryption much more easily.

But wait! There’s more! Now you’re pushing smaller keys, you can break those keys more easily. So as well as decrypting the transmission, you can now EASILY pretend to be the website the user was going to, performing a Man-In-The-Middle attack.

All because weak keys were required once, and nobody removed the code to do that. And now in 2015 those weak keys that were “secure enough” for export in 1998 can be broken with about $100 worth of cloud computing time.

And yet backdooring or weakening encryption is still somehow attractive to those in power. How short-sighted.

* I do, as I’m in the UK so we got export versions of security software, backup software and communications software – interoperability with the full US version in big companies was a pain in the posterior.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: And coincidentally...

Of particular note:

‘No doubt, the number of affected websites will decrease in the coming hours and days, but, as this post was being prepared, affected sites included,, and, including the page the FBI uses to accept confidential tips.

Government pushes for intentionally weak encryption, and in turn have their sites vulnerable to it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Double aka other standard

Once again we see that the USA is different from any other country. First in February it was in the financial sector where they are the only country with a AAA rating that has a debt to GDP ratio of >100% while the country behind them (Austria) just lost its AAA rating and was downgraded to AA+ at 89% debt to GDP.

Now when someone else wants backdoors for the exact same reason as the USA it is bad because it is not the USA.
But I guess that is one of those things you can do when you spend more on military than the next 10 countries combined. Shame they don’t spend anything close to this on education.

Richard (profile) says:

We're the good guys

It’s the same “we’re the good guys…because ” mindset that never thinks about the need to actually do good things to justify the label.

You see it everywhere – here is another recent example.

Russian aircraft flying up the channel is a “provocation” or a “threat” – but NATO exercises in the Baltic is just fine and dandy.

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