Beijing to Impose Encryption Disclosure Rules

I originally wrote this piece in April 2010 as feedback to this article in The Wall Street Journal.

Another reader, Felix Wyss, correctly points out that this WSJ article is unclear on the information demanded by Chinese authorities. Every open or public key encryption standard is based on a disclosed algorithm. That’s the whole point. It is the complexity of reversing that algorithm that makes the encryption secure…

If the Chinese government wants more information about the algorithm used to encode data for transmission or archival – For example, to ensure that it is secure – then I say, “Absolutely! Get all the information you like”. But if they want a key escrow or back door, they are barking up a dead tree stump. Been there. Done that. Our own government tried this. In the words of Dana Carvy: “Not Gonna Happen.

Even under communist rule, that wouldn’t be encryption at all. And with the growing clout of economic success, Chinese companies won’t stand for it. The Party would do better by demanding that routers or firewalls force users to create two keys: One for the end user and one for the network admin. That would promote good business practice. Of course, turning over the 2nd key to anyone outside of the immediate work group  or family would require active user consent and compliance.

Hey China! Let’s face it: The days of suppressing free speech or forcing products to snitch on their users is coming to an ignoble end. The secret police of Romania, East Germany, the Soviet Union and Iraq have all disbanded – or at least redirected to classic gum shoe detective work and intelligence gathering. Terrorism is the new enemy and not the private business and political activities of your own citizens. You have shown a remarkable ability to emerge as an economic superpower, making things that people like, exporting quality products, all while raising the standard of living for your population. Ultimately, this helps all countries. But now you have some very ugly skeletons to sweep out of your closet. Modern 1st world countries cannot forever suppress political and religious freedom.

Grow up. We really do want you to enter the community of nations some day.

– Ellery Davies
Ellery Davies clarifies law and public policy. Feedback is always welcome.