“1984” has come to the 21st century. On Sunday, China passed a controversial new antiterrorism law that drew the ire of human rights groups, businesses, and politicians the world over. Heralded as the country’s first counter-terrorism measure, many worry that the bill’s purported purpose may be overshadowed by its alarming powers. The draft version of the law gives Chinese officials the right to look into the operations of tech companies and ignore certain privacy measures in devices like smartphones, routers, and televisions. It also gives the government even more extensive censorship powers.
Chinese media outlets have not published the full text of the final legislation, but it seems that many of the more concerning components have survived edits. “Not only in China, but also in many places internationally, growing numbers of terrorists are using the Internet to promote and incite terrorism, and are using the Internet to organize, plan, and carry out terrorist acts,” said Li Shouwei, of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, in a news conference.
As the New York Times reported, Li noted that the law does include a clause that requires telecommunication and Internet service providers to “provide technical interfaces, decryption and other technical support and assistance to public security and state security agencies when they are following the law to avert and investigate terrorist activities.”
The Chinese government has insisted that these measures will help crack down on terrorism and prevent attacks before they happen. Officials noted that the law “will not affect companies’ normal business nor install back doors to infringe intellectual property rights, or … citizens freedom of speech on the Internet and their religious freedom.” But others are not so sure.
“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,” William Nee, a researcher on China for Amnesty International who is based in Hong Kong, told the Times. “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.”
For his part, President Obama has made clear the United States’ stance on the controversial new overseas measure. “We have made it very clear to them that this is something they are going to have to change if they are to do business with the United States,” he said earlier this year. And with Apple and many other tech companies manufacturing many of their parts in China, it has yet to be seen how these new regulations will affect the tech landscape at large.
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