China passes controversial cybersecurity law
BEIJINGChina on Nov. 7 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, AFP reported.
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 China’s largely rubber-stamp parliament - 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 honor,” “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.
The legislation drew a wave of criticism from rights groups and foreign business organizations, 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.”
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.”