In China, Telco/Internet Companies Forced to Spy

While in other countries, government places limitations on businesses to help protect citizens’ privacy, China seems hell-bent on doing exactly the opposite…that is legally enforcing telco and internet companies to spy on users and disclose private information to the government.

Indeed, China is on the verge of passing a law that would require telecommunications and internet companies to track, report and delete potential leaks of state secrets. China is thus seeking to tighten its control over these companies as well as expand its watchful eye by leveraging the companies’ inherent spying capabilities (think China’s cyber attack on the gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists in January).

Although penalties for violations of the new law have not yet been disclosed, the draft law’s definition of ‘state secret’ casts a very wide net, which would undoubtedly be open to government interpretation and abuse. Currently, ‘state secret’ is defined as: “information that concerns state security and interests and, if leaked, would damage state security and interests in the areas of politics, economy and national defense, among others.” The draft is in its third review, which is typically the last before passing into law.

China is home to the biggest population of internet users in the world – a whopping 384 million, but its government isn’t about to lose its grip on the flow of information to, from and among those people. Open communication breeds opinions, which breed dissent and in turn, unrest. The only way to avoid inevitable dissent and unrest, China reasons, is more stringent control and vigilance. Recent restrictions aimed at controlling and limiting information exchange include making it more difficult to register domain names and systematically removing unregistered sites.

At the slightest hint of unrest, China goes into hyper info-control mode, shutting off Twitter and Facebook, unplugging the internet and slowing down other methods of viral communication, like texting, to stem the natural flow of information. This very technique was used last July to stem news of violent ethnic riots breaking out in a Muslim region of western China. To China, twittering about the dissent is just as bad as dissenting, and now they’re going to leverage whatever means necessary – including private sector companies – to expand their spy network.

Google left China last month over censorship and cyber espionage disputes. Which company’s next?

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