New controversial Chinese cybersecurity law gets green light

7 Nov 2016

China’s Great Hall of the People. Image: testing/Shutterstock

Despite protestation from some of the largest tech companies in the world, the Chinese government has given the green light to a controversial new cybersecurity law that could have major implications on data security and international trade.

The inevitability of the passing of this law, which would give the one-party state greater levels of control over the country’s online access, has been known for some time.

However, it has now been confirmed by state authorities that the legislation behind it has been given the go-ahead by parliament. It will enter into effect in June 2017 and has been called an “objective need” for China as a global internet power, according to Reuters.

Future Human

International companies fearful

Critics of the future law – largely from outside China itself – have raised serious issues that would require “critical information infrastructure operators” to cooperate in passing on “technical support” to security agencies, as well as being reviewed regularly by the government.

Also, international companies would be forced under the law to store personal and critical business information within China itself, raising concerns that ‘back doors’ or other vulnerabilities will be enforced upon their products.

Last August, 40 global business groups pleaded with the Chinese premier Li Keqiang to amend the law, over fears their entire businesses would be compromised in the country. However, the government strongly denies any potential harm will come to foreign companies.

Speaking of the law’s passing, an official with the National People’s Congress standing committee said: “China is an internet power, and as one of the countries that faces the greatest internet security risks, [it] urgently needs to establish and perfect network-security legal systems.”

A difference of opinions

The news comes as China’s government begins a crackdown on pro-independence movements in Hong Kong. The autonomous territory currently follows a “one country, two governments” policy, enacted since it was given back to China from the UK in 1997.

While a democracy currently exists in Hong Kong, China has said it will not allow two pro-independence politicians enter into its government.

One of the statutes of the law would criminalise anyone using the internet in the country that the government might think will “damage national unity”.

Other critics of the law include the American Chamber of Commerce in China, which has referred to the new ruling as “vague” and “subject to broad interpretation” by national regulators.

Responding to these claims, the director of the Cyberspace Administration of China, Zhao Zeliang, has denied this perception as a misunderstanding of the law.

“They believe that [phrases such as] secure and independent control, secure and reliable… are signs of trade protectionism,” he said, denying any synonymity.

“This is a kind of misunderstanding, a kind of prejudice.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic