China wants encryption cracked on demand because ... er, terrorism

FBI dreams wistfully of Middle Kingdom's new antiterror law

China has passed its first antiterrorism law – and it is a worrying development for companies looking to do business securely in the Middle Kingdom.

Under the new legislation, organizations in China will have to "offer technological assistance and cooperation with security departments to help prevent and investigate terrorist activities." In practical terms, that means cracking the encryption in an app or device when the police come knocking.

"This rule accords with the actual work need of fighting terrorism and is basically the same as what other major countries in the world do," Li Shouwei, deputy head of the Chinese parliament's criminal law division, told Reuters.

"Providers of telecommunications, Internet, finance, accommodation and passenger transport services should also check the identity of clients," the law also states, effectively killing off online anonymity.

The legislation isn’t quite as bad as it could have been; an earlier draft called for mandatory backdoors in all encryption used by Chinese citizens.

The final version is still going to make life awkward for companies looking to tout their wares in the world's biggest market: Western execs operating in China will be told to comply – or get out. Obeying demands to "assist" Chinese intelligence agencies would not be a good look for corporations desperate to prove they care about people's privacy and security.

Speaking of the West, it would appear China, while drafting its antiterror law, got its inspiration from CALEA: America's Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, which requires telecoms companies to help the FBI and other g-men spy on people, provided the agents have a court's approval.

Other provisions in the new Chinese law make it a crime to "disseminate information on forged terrorist incidents, report on or disseminate details of terrorist activities that might lead to imitation, nor publish scenes of cruelty or inhumanity about terrorist activities." But the authorities claim human rights will be respected.

Another headache is that the new law grants the People's Liberation Army authorization to operate overseas to fight terrorism. America already reserves this right as a self-appointed world police force, which as we all know is working out just great. ®

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