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Human rights activists fume over China’s cyber security law

The law 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".
Cyber Crime, Workshop, Ghaziabad

China’s legislature approved a cyber security law which has disturbed human rights activists, who are warning of tighter political controls while foreign companies say might hamper access to Chinese technology markets.

Even though Beijing claims that the law is needed to prevent crime and terrorism, and reportedly it also prohibits activity aimed at “overthrowing the socialist system,” a reference to challenges to the ruling Communist Party’s monopoly on power.

The legislation, passed by China`s National People´s Congress Standing Committee and set to come into effect in June 2017, is an “objective need” of China as a major internet power, reports quoted a parliamentary official as saying.

According to the new law, the government will take measures to “monitor, defend and handle cyber security risks and threats originating from within the country or overseas sources, protecting key information infrastructure from attack, intrusion, disturbance and damage”.

The law 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”. It also requires companies to verify a user´s identity, effectively making it illegal to go online anonymously.

Adding to it, provisions for protecting the country´s networks and private user information are also there.

Reportedly, Chinese leaders promote internet use for business and education but try to block access to material deemed subversive or obscene. According to the government data, China has the biggest population of Internet users at 710 million.

In various reports, overseas critics have argued that the law threatens to shut foreign technology companies out of various sectors deemed “critical”, and includes contentious requirements for security reviews and for data to be stored on servers located in China.

Human Rights advocates have also reportedly said that the law will enhance restrictions on China`s internet, already subject to the world`s most sophisticated online censorship mechanism, known outside the country as the Great Firewall.

The law is said to tighten control on where Chinese citizens’ data can be stored, and requires companies to enforce censorship and aid in investigations and imposes standards for security technology.

Business groups have complained Beijing increasingly is using regulation to try to squeeze foreign competitors out of promising industries.

Chinese authorities cite the need to protect banks and other industries. But officials of Chinese industry groups quoted in the state press, Xinhua news agency, have said previous restrictions on use of foreign security technology also were intended to shield the country’s fledgling providers from competition.

The provision of “secure and controllable” might require Business groups to tell Chinese authorities how their products work, raising the risk of trade secrets which might be leaked.

These demands have raised concern within companies that fear they would have to hand over intellectual property or open back doors within products in order to operate in China`s market.

Reportedly, James Zimmerman, chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China, called the provisions “vague, ambiguous, and subject to broad interpretation by regulatory authorities”.

Human Rights watch said elements of the law, such as criminalizing the use of the internet to “damage national unity”, would further restrict online freedom.

The law`s adoption comes amid a broad crackdown by President Xi Jinping on civil society, including rights lawyers and the media, which critics say is meant to quash dissent.

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