China’s legislative body recently adopted a controversial cybersecurity law that requires both domestic and foreign companies operating within the territory to cooperate with the law in order to safeguarding the national integrity of the People’s Republic.
Does the new legislation effectively tighten controls on Internet freedom of speech in China?
China has always maintained strong oversight of domestic user web content.
In 2013, for example, the Chinese government expanded criminal law codes to include transgressions like publically “spreading rumors” and criticizing the government.
Reports of Attorneys, journalists, and other human rights activists have been intimidated or jailed by Beijing for subversion charges only reiterate the country’s reputation for strict censorship.
Finally, there’s the the Great Firewall that was erected to further restrict China’s cyberspace.
Great Walls of Fire
The governing Chinese Communist Party reguarly limits user access to foreign websites and social networks including Google, Facebook, and Twitter through a sophisticated block dubbed the Great Firewall.
Acess to what the governing body determines to be questionable web content, blogs, forums and comments on Chinese social platforms can also be deleted or blocked.
What the law Says
The law, adopted by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, prohibits publication of web content offensive to “national honor,” “disturbing the social or economic nature” or the “socialist system.”
Effective June 1st, 2017, the legislation also imposes new restrictions on data transfers, localization of personal data of Chinese customers within Chinese territories, and systematic identity verification of Internet users – measures that would make it virtually impossible to use the internet anonymously in China.
The main clause of the law requires Internet service providers and technology companies to physically store their data in China.
Critics assert this change will make it easier for the Chinese government to monitor data and user activity for what it determines to be dissident content or a security threat. This would most likely mean that anyone considered an online threat would labeled an enemy of the state.
Criticism of China’s Cybersecurity Law
The law is drawing criticism from rights groups, Tech giants, NGOs and other companies who are actively voicing their concerns.
Foreign companies are concerned about cooperating with the Chinese authorities to protect “national security,” – currently a relatively ambiguous term as it appears in the final draft of the law but to be defined on Chinese terms.
“Requiring companies to use “secure and reliable” products, might actually mean that foreign companies have to buy Chinese software and technology.”
Other more heated criticisms accuse Chinese policymakers pf purposely using vague language in crafting the law in order to confuse companies, foreign experts and the public in general about how the law will actually be implemented.
Furthermore, requiring companies to give priority to the use of “secure and reliable” products, might actually mean that foreign companies have to buy Chinese software and proprietary technology.
The Chinese government has long been criticized for its cyber security policies and monitoring tactics. The new law, arguably similar to what the Patriot Act was for the U.S. with legal clauses detailing national security, espionage and treason, reinforces the regime’s ability mount stronger charges in court.
Whether written this way or not, the new law will surely give Chinese users cause to think twice before hitting the share button.