US is just like China

14 Jun 2013

In light of the revelations about the scale of surveillance of both US citizens and foreigners by the NSA, it seems timely to question the motive behind the US congressional committee's stark warning last October on the long-term security risk of Chinese telecom equipment makers (specifically Huawei and ZTE).

Back in October the House Intelligence Committee was concerned that the two companies' network infrastructure could potentially give China's intelligence services access to user data, allegedly via some kind of "backdoor". There was no mention of the hundreds of telcos around the world that have used their gear from more than a decade without any security complaints, much less formal violations.

Jump ahead nine months (in which time no specific allegations have been issued by the committee nor an action taken by the Department of Justice or the Department of Homeland Security -- which the committee said were pending). We find that all the US telcos were "requested" to hand over call records on ALL subscribers for a two-week period in April and that nine internet firms (including Google, Facebook and Apple) were ordered to give the NSA access to their foreign users' (outside the US) emails, online chats, pictures, files, videos and other data uploaded.

The committee's objective, it now appears, was more likely that since the government was in no position to share details on the PRISM surveillance program with firms based in China (under a communist government), it needed to come up with a way to blackball them from US telecom service provider and government network contracts.

So far from being a national security threat to the US because of the potential to spy and steal data via their services provider customers' networks, the US government obviously couldn't reveal to mainland firms operating in the US that its regard for privacy is in the same league as China. Chinese dissident Ai Wei Wei, in a Guardianarticle, says the US is behaving like China and “it's abusively using government powers to interfere in individuals' privacy.”

The tech giants, led by Google, are claiming the government didn't have "unfettered access to our users' data" and have asked for permission to publish the number and scope of the requests for user data from US authorities.

We'll see how far that goes on both counts. Any step toward openness on behalf of the US security apparatus could take years, but Google is already facing a strong backlash from users, who are once again asking what "Do no evil" really means.

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