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.

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 3 Mar 2015 @ 11:37am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Padpaw (profile), 3 Mar 2015 @ 1:36pm

    Do as I say not as I do, because I have nuclear weapons so screw you

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2015 @ 1:42pm

    The US Government: Setting the operating standards for opressive regimes since 9/12/2001.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2015 @ 2:07pm

    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."
    I very much hope he is right, but I fear that he is wrong, that they never will realize the consequences of their actions.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2015 @ 2:51pm

      Re:

      "I very much hope he is right, but I fear that he is wrong, that they never will realize the consequences of their actions."

      Even if they realize it, they will never admit it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2015 @ 11:17pm

        Re: Re:

        Yeah, I don't think they realize the consequences of their actions when they get attacked by the factions they empowered in the first place.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 3 Mar 2015 @ 2:15pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2015 @ 6:09am

      Re: This muppet is such an embarrassment

      Well he's a semi-autonomous puppet, meant to be a pariah, can't really be surprised his statements contradict. This apparently is our system.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2015 @ 2:16pm

    It is different when we do it because we only want to spy on the bad guys all over the world, if it means spying on everybody to find the bad guys, well tough luck. It's not like we want to spy on good people...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    AnonCow, 3 Mar 2015 @ 2:19pm

    It is only a matter of time before the Chinese government reveals a secret communication between U.S. government officials complaining about Chinese demands for hardware backdoor access that was acquired by hacking an existing communications hardware backdoor created at the behest of the U.S. government.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Curmudgeon, 3 Mar 2015 @ 2:21pm

    Someday turned out to be 2 weeks later.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 3 Mar 2015 @ 2:29pm

    Somebody needs to re-take Hypocrisy 101--obviously failed it the first time.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2015 @ 2:29pm

    It is important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the hypocritical jobs these folks have. A lot of these folks are working hard under enormous delusions and are real idiots.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 3 Mar 2015 @ 3:03pm

      Re:

      I suspect Obama to be a fake idiot. Not that it would make a difference.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        andyroo, 4 Mar 2015 @ 4:38am

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2015 @ 2:52pm

    Yo Black!
    Meet Kettle!
    Call him Pot!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Philip Storry (profile), 3 Mar 2015 @ 3:09pm

    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:
    http://arstechnica.com/security/2015/03/freak-flaw-in-android-and-apple-devices-cripples-https- crypto-protection/

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 4 Mar 2015 @ 7:59am

      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 NSA.gov, Whitehouse.gov, and FBI.gov, 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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2015 @ 3:21pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2015 @ 3:33pm

      Re: Double aka other standard

      Shame they don't spend anything close to this on education.

      If they did that, people would realize how dangerous the US government is.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2015 @ 4:08pm

        Re: Re: Double aka other standard

        I wouldn't choose the word "dangerous" although it seems to be true in ways of security. My choice would be "stupid" or a fancy way to say it "non coherent".

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Padpaw (profile), 3 Mar 2015 @ 9:52pm

      Re: Double aka other standard

      financial success in the states is only because the dollar is the world standard.

      Once it gets replaced you have a worthless scrap of paper that stopped being backed by gold decades ago. enjoy the meltdown and martial law that follows

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2015 @ 3:30pm

    usual situation. the USA wants everything and to know all there is everywhere, but no one else is allowed the same. how bloody selfish can it get?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Spaceman Spiff (profile), 3 Mar 2015 @ 3:47pm

    Pot and kettle

    If there was ever an example of the pot calling the kettle black, this is it!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2015 @ 4:13pm

    Clearly Chine should make laws stating that they have the same kind of access to/knowledge of the systems as the US government.

    Aka any keys, backdoor etc shared with the US needs to be sent to China to or face hefty fines.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2015 @ 8:20pm

    Nothing says American exceptionalism more than telling the entire world that only America is allowed to have backdoors/frontdoors in encryption.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    WaitWot, 3 Mar 2015 @ 10:37pm

    It wasn't Obama

    It was the dummy they keep in the closet to trot out for interviews, TV spots, etc.

    Not much difference from the real one apparently...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Richard (profile), 4 Mar 2015 @ 2:35am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jim Anderson, 4 Mar 2015 @ 6:24am

    What companies will do

    Real strong encryption with no back doors is what is needed. You can't be forced to give up something that does not exist. Governments will try to force faux encryption and the battle will be fought there.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 4 Mar 2015 @ 10:23am

    We could simply include one layer to which the US has a backdoor, and another layer in which China has a back door.

    But then that might cause problems when the US and China finally learn to share.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 4 Mar 2015 @ 10:46am

      Re: We could simply include one layer to which the US has a backdoor, and another layer in which China has a back door.

      It's pretty safe to assume that all nations that have a powerful intelligence community (such as the US and China) would hold the keys to everyone else's back doors anyway.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2015 @ 12:33pm

    United Fascists of America.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: I Invented Email
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.