Back doors might spell hypocrisy but there is more to it than that

back doors
Image credit | belinda_bw/

News that the US, UK and several other countries are calling for laws which mandate ‘back doors’ to encrypted services has caused quite a stir.

Hypocrisy is the main accusation levelled at these so called advanced nations. How could the US, with its followers, accuse the likes of Huawei of spying, through ‘back doors’ and then insist that they are allowed the same access?

Of course, these countries also insist that the move is to monitor and limit extremism and to combat terrorism, and the likes of Priti Patel of the UK, are very cross that they are not immediately getting what they want.

This is not just nations wanting to spy on each other, while not being spied upon, it is also – obviously – about privacy, which the tech companies involved probably take more seriously than anyone. You will remember the arguments about whether Apple should hack into the Palo Alto killer’s iPhone.

It seriously divided opinion about privacy. Apple said no, it sets a precedent for Governments around the world to be able to listen in on any and all of its citizens. The Government said that it would help their investigations enormously, possibly help identify associates and avoid further terrorist incidents.

There is merit in both arguments.

Of course, if you were China, faced with this current pronounements about ‘back doors’ you would not know whether to laugh or cry at the brazen hypocrisy of the thing.

It is easy for Western journalists and observers to try and justify one particular position or another but recently China has shown itself to be at the forefront of the privacy debate.

Even if you leave aside the country’s recent call for privacy standards to put an end to certain countries using the ‘spying’ word to push companies out of their markets, there is progress.

As we reported in May this year, “China is poised to enshrine individuals’ rights to privacy and personal data for the first time, a symbolic first step as more of the country of 1.4 billion people becomes digitised – and more vulnerable to leaks and hacks”.

And, amazingly to people in ‘Western’ countries an encrypted messaging service called LeakZero has been launched, that sits on top of other services and ensures that users are safe from spies. The company was launched by Hu Zhicheng, who was in charge of security for Amazon in China for 15 years and he founded the company to provide the levels of privacy found in Opera or Firefox.

Whether you believe that China is genuinely supporting greater privacy for its increasingly digital population or whether you believe that they secretly insist on ‘back doors’, you could say exactly the same of the US and its allies.

And whether or not it is true, it can only have one long term effect – a return to an isolationist world (full of back doors).

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