US seeks standards dominance, lets Huawei access previously forbidden crypto tech

Beijing thinks standards should include central network controls. Washington does not

The US Commerce Department's Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) has relaxed restrictions that barred export of some encryption technologies to Huawei, in the name of ensuring the United States is in a better position to negotiate global standards.

A Thursday announcement [PDF] explains the decision was taken because American businesses have told the Biden administration they're confused about whether they need to seek a license before bringing some tech to standards talks. That confusion "undermined US participation and leadership in these activities," the announcement states.

The Biden administration has a policy of ensuring US entities can achieve administrative and technical leadership of standards forums – a response to Huawei's many and substantial contributions to 5G standards. The Chinese giant's efforts are seen as having given it a headstart in development of 5G products.

The US also worries that China, through companies like Huawei, is trying to create standards that benefit authoritarian governments. In 2020, for example, Huawei floated New IP that allows central control of networks. China's government has made contributing to networking standards a priority as part of its nationwide IPv6 adoption plan.

China and Huawei argue that their proposed networking standards are needed to ready the internet for future applications. Critics point out that China's standards are being advanced through the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), rather than the usual standards-setting bodies: the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) or Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

It's widely felt that China is therefore trying to shop for a friendly forum by working through the ITU.

America wants to ensure it can exert dominance in all standards bodies, and justifies that stance as ensuring the values of liberal democracies and open markets are embedded in tech.

Which is why the BIS on Thursday issued guidance that allows the export of some encryption tech – provided it is only used for standards development activities.

The tech allowed to leave US shores is described as "low-level" rather than anything that could represent a national security or commercial risk.

In related news, the ITU meeting at which Huawei will table New IP starts on September 22. The Register will observe proceedings with interest. ®

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