China counterterrorism law: US cyber privacy advocates express concern

The law may include provisions that would force Chinese tech companies to install backdoors in their software that would give Beijing access to personal data

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The Independent Online

US Internet privacy advocates have expressed concerns that China’s imminent counterterrorism law will affect Web and tech users far beyond the borders of the People’s Republic. 

But Chinese officials have said that Washington has inspired and informed their bid to clamp down on what they called terrorists’ use of information technology.

The law has yet to be finalised, but Chinese state news reports and policy analysts have indicated that it may include provisions that would force Chinese tech companies to install backdoors in their software that would give Beijing access to personal data, require that those companies supply the government with encryption software and bar reporters from covering terrorism in a way that may inspire copycats. 

“When China's [counterterrorism in communications law] is mandated on all equipment offered for sale in its borders and likely in its client states — Zimbabwe adopted the Yuan as an official currency yesterday — then vendors will respond by building this capability into any equipment that might end up in China, even if it never does,” Cory Doctorow, special advisor to the San Francisco-headquartered advocacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), told The Independent

“This creates a vulnerability that other entities -- national security forces, police, industrial spies, voyeurs, organized crime, griefers, identity thieves — will exploit, even in countries that never passed a backdoor law,” Mr Doctorow added. 

While Mr Doctorow could not immediately address how that would affect British and American tech consumers, Chinese officials described what they called the US role in the pending provisions. 

After telling the press that US legislation had inspired the coming Chinese measures, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said, “With the aim of fighting terrorism, countries including the US have provided in relevant legislation the duty of assistance of network operators and service providers.” 

“For example, in the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act and other relevant laws, the US states in explicit terms that relevant companies shall offer assistance to law enforcement agencies in lawful interception and decryption of encrypted communication,” Mr Hong added. 

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US President Barack Obama told Reuters news agency in March that he had raised privacy concerns over the proposed legislation with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping. 

China currently faces what Beijing has described as a national security threat posed by the nation’s Uighur ethnic minority. Rights advocates for the Uighurs, who are predominantly Muslim, have said that Chinese officials use the global war on terrorism to legitimize their repression of Uighur civil liberties. The Uighurs hail from the region of China known as Xinjiang, a key region for the import of oil and gas from China’s Central Asian neighbors.