Proposed Internet Security Law Raises Concerns

As part of a wave of legislation aimed at further regulating civil society, speech, and assembly, the Chinese government has issued a draft law on Internet security, which is open for public review until August. Like the draft Foreign NGO Management Law and the recently passed National Security Law, this proposal has been criticized for being excessively vague and for its potential to impose harsh restrictions on Internet expression. Didi Tang at AP reports:

The National People’s Congress, the country’s highest legislative body, released the text of the proposed law on Wednesday. It said a legislative panel gave the proposal its first reading in June and that it is seeking public comment until Aug. 5.

China’s government considers cybersecurity to be crucial to national security, and espouses the concept of Internet sovereignty, treating its portion of cyberspace as its territory.

The proposed law says Internet operators must take necessary steps to close security loopholes to prevent possible cyberattacks. It also criminalizes any hacking activity. [Source]

For the Council on Foreign Relations, Adam Segal outlines the key components of the draft—which extend far beyond prevention of cyberattacks and hacking—including:

* Government will establish national security standards for technical systems and networks.
* to be enforced more strictly, especially with messaging apps where enforcement has been lax.
* Internet operators must provide “support and assistance” to the government for dealing with criminal investigations and national security. […]
* “Timely warning and notification” system for cybersecurity incidents. [Source]

Gerry Shih at Reuters reports on concerns raised by the proposal:

The document, dated Monday but picked up by state media on Wednesday, strengthens user privacy protection from hackers and data resellers but elevates the government’s powers obtain records on and block dissemination of private information deemed illegal under Chinese law.

Citing the need “to safeguard national cyberspace sovereignty, security and development,” the proposed legislation will allow China to bolster its networks against threats to stability and better regulate the flow of information.

[…] Joerg Wuttke, president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, said the business lobby was still reviewing the draft law but that it was “worried”.

“The chief concern is that, as with many Chinese laws, the language is vague enough to make it unclear how the law will be enforced,” Wuttke said. [Source]

One item in the law that has raised hackles among human rights and free speech advocates is Article 50, which would allow local governments to shut down Internet access in case of emergency. China Daily explains:

In a move to ensure State security and public order, governments in the country’s provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities could take measures to restrict Internet use with State Council permission in the event of a serious security breach in their area.

[…] The draft, covering seven security sections and 68 items, also stipulates that network operators and Internet authorities are obliged to stop the spread of posts that break laws. They also must record such breaches and report them to appropriate bodies.

Li Yuxiao, a professor of Internet governance at Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, said the draft’s disclosure is crucial for today’s China, since online threats and security problems pose great risks. [Source]

Blacking out Internet access during periods of instability would not be unprecedented. During and after riots in Urumqi, Xinjiang in July 2009, authorities cut off Internet access to the region for 10 months.

Chinese netizens responded to the draft law, with comments expressing unease with its potential application:

@Flyinlong: When a “serious security issue” hits this country, citizens won’t be able to know about it, and they won’t be able to share information about it, just like during the Jinshan protests.

@Hauyeung_Cheung: Weren’t they criticizing Scumbag Abe’s government for limiting the media just the other day? And they were really going after it then.

Buladepiniusi (@布拉德皮牛寺): You’re still asking the public for input? Why don’t you just pull the plug already?

Yitoubenzhu (@一头笨猪): If cutting the Internet doesn’t work you can roll out the tanks.

Weiwenguiqi (@未问归期): A grand measure to save the stock market! Cut the Internet and the collapse will be over! I commend the wisdom of our mighty nation. [Chinese]

The full text of the law is available in Chinese, and is currently in the process of being translated, via China Law Translate.

A related report from the European Council on Foreign Relations examines new trends in China’s Internet development and notes, “an authoritarian tendency in [the] growing state involvement in the digital realm.”

Translation by Anne Henochowicz.