China Extends Its Control with the Passing of First Ever Anti-Terrorism Law

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China Extends Its Control with the Passing of First Ever Anti-Terrorism Law

daily beast

Source: The Daily Beast

China; the country notoriously known for ruling its web with an iron fist. The Communist Party in charge of the country has constructed The Great Firewall (aka. Great Firewall of China) to keep tight control over what information Chinese internet users may post and access. It may not come as a surprise when China was ranked last out of 65 nations in terms of internet freedom during the 2015 annual study by American pro-democracy group, Freedom House. However, according to researchers at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University and stated by CNN, only about 1 to 3% of Chinese Internet users regularly jump the Firewall to browse the open Internet. Seeing that at 667 million netizens, China has the world’s largest population of internet users, but they are only able to access the small portion of the web they have been granted permission to. Among the prominent websites currently blocked are Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, the New York Times and Bloomberg, sites that many of us could not imagine going without on a daily basis, while the only way for China’s netizens to access them is by using a virtual private network (VPN), an external server.

 

The walls are getting higher

In a country where its central internet regulator, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), makes it no secret that they vow to make the views of the ruling Communist Party the “strongest voice in cyberspace”, following a two-day meeting the agency also said a priority this year would be “using Chinese views, Chinese plans to lead to a transformation in the governance system of the Internet globally”.

Here comes the latest law in addition to the China’s efforts to strengthen its tightening grip on the net: the new counter-terrorism law just passed this past 27th December 2015 which has already taken effect on 1st January 2016.

The new legislation which requires the setting up of a state-level leading group on counterterrorism also calls for governments of at least city level to set up affiliated agencies. China’s first-ever counter-terrorism bill requires technology firms to provide information to the government obtained from their products and by assisting to decrypt any information if the need arises, although the law does not demand tech firms to install security backdoors as initially drafted. Moreover, it allows the military to venture overseas to conduct counter-terror operations, provided approval is granted by the foreign country in question, which could well lay the groundwork for future military initiatives as China continues to expand its capabilities.

 

Overly broad breadth of scope

Critics argue that the content of the new law is extremely broad, generic and so vague that it would be open to misuse. The legislation recognises “terrorism” to be defined as:

“Any proposition or activity – that, by means of violence, sabotage or threat, generates social panic, undermines public security, infringes on personal and property rights, and menaces government organs and international organizations – with the aim to realize certain political and ideological purposes.”

Thus, this has been the definition opted by China’s government when they may choose to investigate terrorist threats and plots, using a new counterterrorism leading group and national intelligence center designed to streamline anti-terror work. The new law targets the organisation, planning, preparation and implementation of terrorist acts, which have caused or are intended to cause casualties and significant damage to property or public facilities.

 

What it means for telcos & ISPs

The law implies to telecommunication and internet service providers (ISPs) that they are required to assist public security bureaus and national security authorities in any technical support, monitoring and reporting, including technological interface and decryption, all under the premise of preventing and investigating terrorism activities. Hence, it not only bequeaths the state such vast access to sensitive commercial data, but will encumber tech companies operating in China as well as possibly affect Chinese companies trying to enter foreign markets.

Telecommunications operators and ISPs have been saddled with the legal responsibility of ensuring that content generated by terrorists are not made available on their network or else they are bound to face legal action. The companies are advised to take security measures and adopt monitoring mechanisms to identify terrorism and extremism information which would require the companies to immediately stop the transmission of extremism information, retain the records as evidence, delete such information, and report the incident to the public security authority or other relevant government authorities. However, critics argue that the law’s cyber provisions may be used against service providers for the purposes of forcing them to comply with Chinese law and to give access to information.

 

Decryption & access to sensitive data

Rather than curbing domestic and international terrorism, some analysts believe that the purpose of the bill is aimed more at control of the Chinese population. In fact, China are so obsessed about security and counter-terrorism that the country is dedicating its first anti-terrorism university which would award Masters degrees and Doctorates in anti-terrorism studies in the region of Xinjiang.

Nevertheless, the law has attracted deep concern in Western capitals, because it could violate human rights such as freedom of speech and expression, with even the US President Barack Obama expressed worry about the law directly with Chinese President Xi Jinping, and raised his concern to Reuters that tech companies may not go along with the intrusive demands laid out.

Peter Nicholson

Source: Peter Nicholson

Under the law, coverage of terrorist attacks and government anti-terror efforts in the media are restricted, including a provision that media and social media cannot report on details of terror activities that might lead to imitation, nor show scenes that are “cruel and inhuman”. Although under the premise of a first ever counterterrorism law, many do believe it is just the latest expansion of China’s authoritative powers under President Xi Jinping.

“While the Chinese authorities do have a legitimate duty in safeguarding their citizens from violent attacks, passing this law will have some negative repercussions for human rights. Essentially, this law could give the authorities even more tools in censoring unwelcome information and crafting their own narrative in how the ‘war on terror’ is being waged,” William Nee, researcher on China for Amnesty International.

 

Sources

[1] South China Morning Post

[2] The Diplomat

[3] The Huffington Post

[4] New York Times

[5] The Irish Times

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