China Says Push for Companies’ Encryption Keys Follows U.S. Lead

China dismissed U.S. President Barack Obama’s concerns that new security laws would require foreign companies to open backdoors to their networks, saying the U.S. and the U.K. have long sought the same access.

“Many Western governments, including the governments of the U.S. and the U.K., have for many years asked technology companies to disclose their encryption keys,” Fu Ying, spokeswoman for China’s National People’s Congress, said Wednesday in Beijing. “This step is aimed at preventing and investigating terrorist activities.”

Passage of China’s first anti-terrorism law is a priority for the country’s legislature, which is tackling issues from corruption to economic growth at its annual session this week. Cybersecurity has been a major source of tension with the U.S. as the two nations trade accusations over spying and the hacking of corporate computer systems.

“They’ve got a couple of laws that are working their way through the system that would essentially force all foreign companies, including U.S. companies, to turn over to the Chinese government mechanisms where they could snoop and keep track of all the users of those services,” Obama said in an interview with Reuters March 2. Obama said he has raised the issue with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping.

The European Commission will also discuss with China its concerns over the cybersecurity proposals after the topic was raised by the region’s businesses, it said last month. Chinese hacking attacks on U.S. companies have “grown exponentially in terms of volume and damage,” then-U.S. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers said at a hearing in November.

“We believe it’s important to have dialog and cooperation on the basis of mutual respect for universal cyber governance rules instead of double standards,” Fu said Wednesday.

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