China says ter­ror­ism, fake news im­pel greater global in­ter­net curbs

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

China’s am­bi­tions to tighten up reg­u­la­tion of the In­ter­net have found a sec­ond wind in old fears - ter­ror­ism and fake news. Chi­nese of­fi­cials and busi­ness lead­ers speak­ing at the third World In­ter­net Con­fer­ence held in Wuzhen last week called for more rigid cy­ber gov­er­nance, point­ing to the abil­ity of mil­i­tants to or­gan­ise on­line and the spread of false news items dur­ing the re­cent US elec­tion as signs cy­berspace had be­come dan­ger­ous and un­wieldy.

Ren Xian­ling, the vice min­is­ter of China’s top in­ter­net au­thor­ity, said on Thurs­day that the process was akin to “in­stalling brakes on a car be­fore driv­ing on the road”. Ren, num­ber two at the Cy­berspace Ad­min­is­tra­tion of China (CAC), rec­om­mended us­ing iden­ti­fi­ca­tion sys­tems for ne­ti­zens who post fake news and ru­mours, so they could “re­ward and pun­ish” them.

The com­ments come as US so­cial net­works Face­book Inc and Twit­ter Inc face a back­lash over their role in the spread of false and ma­li­cious in­for­ma­tion gen­er­ated by users, which some say helped sway the US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in favour of Repub­li­can can­di­date Don­ald Trump. Over the last year, China has for­malised a series of in­ter­net con­trols, in­clud­ing a con­tro­ver­sial cy­ber­se­cu­rity law passed ear­lier this month, rules that over­seas busi­ness groups say could block for­eign firms from the mar­ket.

Some fear such con­trols could, how­ever, hin­der the growth and in­no­va­tion that is boost­ing Chi­nese in­flu­ence in global tech. The Wuzhen con­fer­ence, held an­nu­ally in the pic­turesque town out­side Shang­hai, gave a glimpse of China’s tougher new stance; in past years at­ten­dees were given un­fet­tered ac­cess to web­sites nor­mally blocked by China’s ‘Great Fire­wall’, in­clud­ing Google and Face­book, but not this year.

Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping ad­dressed the con­fer­ence in a short video speech on Wed­nes­day, re­peat­ing calls to re­spect “cy­ber sovereignty” - the im­po­si­tion of gov­ern­ment con­trols over cy­berspace within China’s bor­ders.

Cy­ber sovereignty is seen as a di­rect chal­lenge to the US-led view, which en­cour­ages non-gov­ern­ment stake­hold­ers to take the lead in gov­ern­ing spe­cific in­ter­net in­dus­tries. “The value of the in­ter­net comes from its flex­i­bil­ity,” said Jared Ragland, se­nior di­rec­tor of pol­icy for the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion at soft­ware lob­by­ist group BSA. “We don’t think it would be help­ful to start treat­ing it like a pub­lic util­ity that can be walled off be­hind bor­ders.”

China’s new cy­ber law, which comes into ef­fect in June next year, has sparked con­cerns of heavy-handed sur­veil­lance and lo­cal data stor­age re­quire­ments. China’s in­ter­net reg­u­la­tor says the law does not tar­get for­eign firms and is de­signed to mit­i­gate cy­ber ter­ror­ism threats to “crit­i­cal in­fras­truc­ture”. UN of­fi­cials at­tend­ing the con­fer­ence are also cur­rently weigh­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of a mul­ti­lat­eral cy­ber-ter­ror­ism treaty, though a stale­mate over the definition of cy­ber-ter­ror­ism has ham­pered ef­forts, a UN of­fi­cer told Reuters.

De­spite the re­cent reg­u­la­tory chill, sev­eral lead­ing for­eign tech firms joined the con­fer­ence, in­clud­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tives from Face­book, In­ter­na­tional Busi­ness Ma­chines Corp, Qual­comm Inc and Tesla Mo­tors Inc. On Thurs­day, Reid Hoff­man, chair­man and co-founder of LinkedIn Corp, a pro­fes­sional net­work­ing site, praised China’s “hus­tle” and “prag­ma­tism” in a speech on digital glob­al­i­sa­tion. The fol­low­ing day, reg­u­la­tors ruled to block the com­pany’s site in Rus­sia, a coun­try that also cham­pi­ons cy­ber sovereignty. China’s top tech firms also ral­lied be­hind Bei­jing at the event, lend­ing sup­port for the re­cent cy­ber­se­cu­rity reg­u­la­tions and point­ing to the role of so­cial media in Trump’s elec­tion as a cau­tion­ary tale in the fight against fake news. Ma Hu­ateng, the chair­man and chief ex­ec­u­tive of Ten­cent Hold­ings Ltd, which over­sees China’s most pop­u­lar so­cial net­work­ing app, WeChat, said Trump’s win sent an “alarm” to the global com­mu­nity about the dan­gers of fake news, a view echoed by other ex­ec­u­tives at the event. “(Trump’s pop­u­lar­ity) re­in­forces wari­ness about how much free­dom should be al­lowed in the use of the in­ter­net in China,” says Jing­dong Yuan, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at Syd­ney University spe­cial­is­ing in Asia-Pa­cific Se­cu­rity.

Con­trols can have down­sides for in­no­va­tion, how­ever. Baidu Inc, which held the first pub­lic trial of its au­ton­o­mous cars in Wuzhen, has met with road­blocks due to re­cent restric­tions on au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles. “In China a few months back they just have a new reg­u­la­tion that banned the test­ing on high­ways, so we only do it in the streets now,” said Wang Jing, the vice pres­i­dent in charge of Baidu’s au­ton­o­mous driv­ing unit. “I don’t know why.”“If you (reg­u­la­tors) want to have this kind of driv­ing in China early on then you’ve got to sup­port us,” said Wang.

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