Obama Against China's Plan To Build Back Doors in Technological Companies

March 11, 2015


President Barack Obama criticized a Chinese counterterrorism proposal during an interview with Reuters last March 2, 2015. The Chinese proposed requiring technological companies to build back doors in their products and give the encryption keys that secure customer data to the Chinese for their surveillance programs.

“The laws 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. 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,” said President Obama.

According to U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, “The rules aren’t about security—they are about protectionism and favoring Chinese companies.”

Obama supports stronger encryption, but also understands the wishes of law enforcement, knowing that stronger encryption will lead to more hiding places for terrorists as they go online. However, cryptography experts say that lawful intercept capabilities will weaken security features and provide more vulnerable targets for hackers. <Editor query: “more vulnerable targets” can be read two ways. It can mean that there are a larger number of targets, or it can mean that targets would be more vulnerable. Could you reword this to prevent misunderstanding? It could be “increase vulnerability to hackers” or “increase the number of vulnerable targets for hackers.”> Building back doors and giving encryption keys to the U.S. government will cause other countries to want access to them, in the same way as China has proposed.

The president’s rejection of China’s proposal was the right move. As Center for Strategic and International Studies senior fellow James A. Lewis said, “Nobody likes to buy a product that has a back door in it.”

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