Dear China: Cut out the sneaky spying shenanigans

Summary:Look, you're running dangerously close to ticking America off. It's this Huawei thing, believe it or not. You're starting to freak us out with all this sneaking around and spying on our computer gear.

2011-11-04-china
China's troubled relationship with America

Pssst... Hey, China! Can we talk? Yeah, you. You country of 1.3 billion people, we gotta have a conversation.

Look, you're running dangerously close to ticking America off. It's this Huawei thing, believe it or not. You're starting to freak us out with all this sneaking around and spying on our computer gear.

Yeah, I know you deny it, but you and I both know it's something you'd do.

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So, here's the thing: we're okay with competing with you in the open marketplace. If you want to hire people for a tenth of what we can, and shove them into dorms, and work them until they jump off the tops of buildings, most Americans either don't know about it, or are apparently relatively cool with that.

Sure, it means we're losing jobs here in America, and sure that seems like a crappy way to treat people, but if we can get our blingy gadgets for cheap, what the heck? Work those people. Some of us are waiting weeks for the new iPhone 5. Not me -- I'm not even willing to upgrade to iOS 6. I like maps that work. And I wrote an entire book about the issues of American jobs going to countries like China and India. I want jobs here in the U.S. So, I am NOT cool with it.

Anyway, what we don't like is the idea that you might have backdoors in our computers or that you might somehow be building trapdoors into the data centers you want to build in the U.S. We don't like the idea that you could tunnel in across the ocean in the middle of the night and just turn our stuff off.

If we want something that will just shut down on it's own, we have it. It's called the Blue Screen of Death.

See, Americans are all fine and dandy with being competed against, but we're also paranoid as all heck. We're willing to take a lot of time before being paranoid, because paranoia takes a lot of work, and we really would prefer to watch "New Girl" (no, I've never seen it) than organize and make a fuss.

See Also: Questionable loyalties: the cybersecurity implications of buying system software from foreign companies

Just remember, though -- if you freak us out too much, we'll get all pitch-forky and torches. Don't believe me? Look up Joe McCarthy in Wikipedia.

I know you've been watching the American elections and you're pretty sure that we Americans can't do anything in a cooperative fashion, but that's not really true.

So, if we're ever really able to prove that you're building machines for us that take Grandma's whiskey money from her behind her back, or can reach into our data centers and steal our medical or financial records, we will react.

See, there are American firms we allow to do that. We're fine with Google, Apple, and Facebook knowing all about us. After all, they provide us with services we like. I hadn't logged into Facebook for months, but the day I did, the site served me up with an ad about a little shop that delivered Greek food in my neighborhood.

How they knew I'd go for that, I'll never know. But it was of value to me, so I didn't mind that Facebook was reading my mind. Sadly, I live in the middle of Florida, a culturally desolate place, and so the Greek food delivery service lasted all of three feta wraps, but that's not the point.

The point is you need to cut this backdoor spying crap out (yes, I know you deny it). And tell Huawei to just stop bothering us. The company freaks us out.

Okay, do you want one final example that shows that if you go too far, we Americans will gather together, decide to boycott all your stuff, and go back to buying computers built in Fremont instead of by Foxconn?

(Aside: who names a company "Foxconn"? Seriously, "fox" and "conn"? Are you trying to advertise sneakiness and spying, or do you figure we're too dumb to work it out on our own??)

Anyway, you want proof that we'll wake up and smell the scam? Check this out. This week, the House Intelligence Committee (yeah, I know it's hard to put "The House" and "Intelligence" in the same sentence, but work with me) -- anyway, the House Intelligence Committee issued a report specifically warning against buying gear from Huawei and ZTA, calling these companies security risks.

You want to start quaking in fear? Here's something that should wake you up: this hearing and the conclusion were fully bi-partisan. Wrap that in a sandwich and try to say it: bi-partisan. We don't do anything bi-partisan in America anymore, especially less than a month before the Presidential election.

And yet, we bi-partisanly disapproved of your shenanigans. This is the first step. If you're freaking us out enough that we're willing to work together, you're waking us up. And when we wake up, we get angry.

Don't make us angry. You wouldn't like us when we're angry.

Editorial note: Last November, when I wrote a previous article warning about concerns regarding Huawei's security issues, I was contacted directly by William B. Plummer, Vice President, External Affairs for Huawei. He wanted to set up a phone call where he'd explain where I was wrong. When, instead, I offered to put him on camera and let him say anything he wanted directly to ZDNet's audience without editing, he terminated contact with me and has not responded to further emails. The offer still stands.

ZDNet Government China coverage:

Disclosure: Huawei has a partnership with Symantec. I was once an executive at Symantec (a long time ago, in a valley far, far away).

Topics: Security, China, Government, Government : Asia, Government : US

About

In addition to hosting the ZDNet Government and ZDNet DIY-IT blogs, CBS Interactive's Distinguished Lecturer David Gewirtz is an author, U.S. policy advisor and computer scientist. He is featured in The History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets, is one of America's foremost cyber-security experts, and is a top expert on savi... Full Bio

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