China's New Anti-Terrorism Law May Call on Foreign Tech Firms

  • Telcos, internet firms will have to aid government snooping
  • China says countries including U.S. have similar measures

China passed an anti-terrorism law that has drawn U.S. criticism for the assistance that foreign technology companies may be required to give to snooping by the Chinese authorities.

The legislature’s standing committee approved the law, the official Xinhua News Agency reported Sunday. At a briefing in Beijing, one official said precedents existed in the U.S., U.K. and the Netherlands for such requirements, while another objected to “double standards” on anti-terrorism measures, according to a transcript.

U.S. concerns have focused on Chinese plans to require phone companies and Internet providers to submit encryption keys, the passcodes that help protect data, and to keep equipment and local user data inside China.

In March, U.S. President Barack Obama said such requirements would let China install “back doors” in U.S. technology companies’ systems, adding that the Asian nation would have to change such provisions to do business with the U.S. Obama had raised his concerns with President Xi Jinping, he told Reuters.

Encryption Keys

On Sunday, an official said that provision 18 of the law required firms to assist security authorities on matters such as computer interface technology and encryption keys, according to a transcript on the government’s

“Our assessment is such requirements do not affect companies’ normal business operations,” said Li Shouwei, a deputy director of the criminal law office of the National People’s Congress. “And there is no such issue of China using the requirement as a back door to violate companies’ intellectual property or, as you suggested, to violate citizens’ freedom of speech and religion,” Li said, responding to a reporter’s question.

Another official, An Weixing, director of the Ministry of Public Security’s anti-terror bureau, said: “China is against double standards on anti-terrorism issues.”

U.S. technology companies have been strengthening their use of encryption technology following revelations by National Security Agency whistle-blower Edward Snowden of government spying in 2013. Apple Inc. is arguing against a proposed U.K. surveillance law, saying that the creation of “back doors and intercept capabilities” would endanger the company’s clients.

Ethnic Violence

Last month, President Xi denounced the first execution of a Chinese national by Islamic State and reaffirmed the country’s opposition to terrorism.

The announcement on the terrorism law came a day after China said that it would not renew the press credentials of a French journalist who wrote an article about ethnic violence in the nation’s northwestern Xinjiang region.

Xinjiang, which is home to a large population of Muslim Uighurs, has long been troubled by violence blamed by the government on militant separatists. Human rights advocates argue China’s efforts to clamp down on perceived separatism has helped radicalize the Uighur minority.

At least 50 people were killed after a group of men attacked a coal mine in Xinjiang, Radio Free Asia reported in October, citing local security officials. Knife-wielding assailants killed 29 people at a train station in the southern city of Kunming in March last year.

— With assistance by Dingmin Zhang, and Bei Hu

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