China passes con­tro­ver­sial cy­ber­se­cu­rity law

Kuwait Times - - TECHNOLOGY -

China yes­ter­day passed a con­tro­ver­sial cy­ber­se­cu­rity bill tight­en­ing re­stric­tions on on­line free­dom of speech and im­pos­ing new rules on on­line ser­vice providers, rais­ing con­cerns it is fur­ther clois­ter­ing its heav­ily con­trolled in­ter­net. The rul­ing Com­mu­nist Party over­sees a vast cen­sor­ship sys­tem-dubbed the Great Fire­wall-that ag­gres­sively blocks sites or snuffs out in­ter­net con­tent and com­men­tary on top­ics con­sid­ered sen­si­tive, such as Bei­jing’s hu­man rights record and crit­i­cism of the gov­ern­ment.

And it has ag­gres­sively blocked ma­jor com­pa­nies such as Google and Face­book from of­fer­ing their ser­vices in its do­mes­tic cy­ber space. The law, which was ap­proved by the Na­tional Peo­ple’s Congress Stand­ing Com­mit­tee, is largely fo­cused on pro­tect­ing the coun­try’s net­works and pri­vate user in­for­ma­tion. But it also bans in­ter­net users from pub­lish­ing a wide va­ri­ety of in­for­ma­tion, in­clud­ing any­thing that dam­ages “na­tional hon­our”, “dis­turbs eco­nomic or so­cial or­der” or is aimed at “over­throw­ing the so­cial­ist sys­tem”.

A pro­vi­sion re­quir­ing com­pa­nies to ver­ify a user’s iden­tity ef­fec­tively makes it il­le­gal to go on­line anony­mously. And com­pa­nies pro­vid­ing on­line ser­vices in the coun­try must pro­vide “tech­ni­cal sup­port and help” to pub­lic se­cu­rity or­gans in­ves­ti­gat­ing “crimes”-which would nor­mally in­clude those re­lated to speech.

Bar­ri­ers to trade

The leg­is­la­tion drew a wave of crit­i­cism from rights groups and for­eign busi­ness or­gan­i­sa­tions, who said its vague lan­guage and over­reach­ing se­cu­rity re­quire­ments would re­strict free­dom of speech and throw up bar­ri­ers to global com­pa­nies hop­ing to serve China’s enor­mous mar­ket of more than 710 mil­lion In­ter­net users.

“This dan­ger­ous law com­man­deers in­ter­net com­pa­nies to be de facto agents of the state, by re­quir­ing them to cen­sor and pro­vide per­sonal data to the au­thor­i­ties at a whim,” said Pa­trick Poon, China re­searcher at global rights group Amnesty In­ter­na­tional. James Zim­mer­man, chair­man of the Amer­i­can Cham­ber of Com­merce in China, said the law risks China “be­com­ing iso­lated tech­no­log­i­cally from the rest of the world”. “Re­quire­ments for na­tional se­cu­rity re­views and data shar­ing will un­nec­es­sar­ily weaken se­cu­rity and po­ten­tially ex­pose per­sonal in­for­ma­tion,” he wrote in a state­ment, adding that over­all the new law “cre­ates bar­ri­ers to trade and in­no­va­tion”.

‘No sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ences’

Con­cerns about the leg­is­la­tion were overblown, Zhao Zeliang, the di­rec­tor of China’s Cy­berspace Ad­min­is­tra­tion, told re­porters. The law is not in­tended “to limit for­eign tech­nol­ogy or prod­ucts or to put up trade bar­ri­ers”, he said. “A few for­eign friends, they equate ‘se­cu­rity con­trols, vol­un­tary con­trols, se­cu­rity trust­wor­thi­ness’ with trade pro­tec­tion­ism,” he said, adding “that’s a type of mis­un­der­stand­ing. A type of prej­u­dice.”

China’s for­eign min­istry spokesman Lu Kang said there were “no sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ences” be­tween the new Chi­nese laws and laws of other coun­tries”, adding that the law had in­volved a lengthy pub­lic com­ment pe­riod, mak­ing it “more trans­par­ent than other govern­ments in this re­gard”. The Eu­ro­pean Cham­ber of Com­merce dis­agreed, say­ing in a state­ment that the “over­all lack of trans­parency over the last year sur­round­ing this sig­nif­i­cant and wide-reach­ing piece of leg­is­la­tion has cre­ated a great deal of un­cer­tainty and neg­a­tiv­ity in the busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment”.

Amnesty’s Poon said the law “goes fur­ther than ever be­fore in cod­i­fy­ing abu­sive prac­tices, with a near-to­tal dis­re­gard for the rights to free­dom of ex­pres­sion and pri­vacy.” Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties have long re­served the right to con­trol and cen­sor on­line con­tent. The coun­try stepped up con­trols in 2013, launch­ing a wide-rang­ing in­ter­net crack­down. Hun­dreds of Chi­nese blog­gers and jour­nal­ists were de­tained as part of the cam­paign, which has seen in­flu­en­tial crit­ics of Bei­jing pa­raded on state tele­vi­sion.

Un­der reg­u­la­tions an­nounced at the time, Chi­nese in­ter­net users face three years in prison for writ­ing defam­a­tory mes­sages that are re-posted 500 times or more. They can also be jailed if of­fend­ing posts are viewed more than 5,000 times. Com­ments posted on so­cial me­dia have been used in the pros­e­cu­tion of var­i­ous ac­tivists, such as hu­man rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang. “If on­line speech and pri­vacy are a bell­wether of Bei­jing’s at­ti­tude to­ward peace­ful crit­i­cism, ev­ery­one-in­clud­ing ne­ti­zens in China and ma­jor in­ter­na­tional cor­po­ra­tions-is now at risk,” said So­phie Richard­son, China Di­rec­tor of Hu­man Rights Watch.

—AP

BEI­JING: In this Aug 16, 2016 file photo, a worker is sil­hou­et­ted against a com­puter dis­play show­ing a live vi­su­al­iza­tion of the on­line phish­ing and fraud­u­lent phone calls across China dur­ing the 4th China In­ter­net Se­cu­rity Con­fer­ence (ISC).

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