The resurgence of national tech wars

It used to be the case that much of “high tech” was considered a national security issue. This wasn’t just about ballistic missiles and targeting software. Today, everyone has strong encryption, but through the 1990s, cryptographic software was considered “munitions”, and was strongly controlled. The same applied to microchips. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the invention of the World Wide Web, the release to the public of the RSA cryptographic algorithms, and the growth in global free trade, a lot of these restrictions have been lessened, if not outright removed. Over the last few years, we’ve seen the beginning of a move back towards restriction of technology, most publicly in the disputes between the US government and Huawei. But now, the EU is getting in on the act. The EU is cracking down on “surveillance software” exports, including, e.g., facial recognition technology.

European countries “need to make sure that authoritarian regimes such as China or Russia are not simply given the newest technology for our short term profit. They have [been] shown to copy, steal and use this technology against us and other democratic countries”.

I … really can’t decide what I think about this. On the one hand, sure, I don’t want to make it easier for China to subjugate and attack ethnic minorities, political dissidents, etc… On the other hand, restricting these technologies also prevents researchers, entrepreneurs, and the disaffected from using them. The Hong Kong protests, while ultimately unsuccessful, couldn’t have gotten nearly as far as they did if the protesters didn’t have access to strong cryptography. Now, I can’t immediately think of a use for facial-recognition technology by protesters, but, just because I can’t think of a use doesn’t mean there isn’t one; and, generally, I’m opposed to keeping knowledge advancement away from people. Interesting times.

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