China defends new anti-terror cyber law

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China’s state-run news agency fired back Tuesday at U.S. officials and other critics for denouncing a recently passed anti-terrorism law that requires technology companies to help Beijing authorities decrypt customer data.

In an editorial, the publication Xinhua called the backlash “hypocritical,” arguing it “revealed double standards.”

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China’s legislature approved the new law on Sunday after months of debate over its draft form. While the law will force companies to help the government decrypt data, it does not include a controversial provision that would have required tech firms to submit all encryption codes for government approval.

Still, the legislation drew criticism on Monday from the tech community and U.S. officials.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner expressed fears the law may “overreach.”

“The United States remains concerned that the broad, vaguely phrased provisions and definitions in this law ... could lead to greater restrictions on the exercise of freedoms of expression, association, peaceful assembly and religion within China,” he told reporters late Monday.

The Xinhua editorial pushed back against these critiques.

“Such remarks showed indifference to the need to protect people from terrorist attacks and revealed double standards in judging China's fight against terrorism,” it said.

“Asking technology firms to help fight terror comes from the important need to safeguard peace, stability and human lives,” it added.

Toner acknowledged these challenges.

“We recognize, as we do, governments throughout the world wrestle with how to confront the challenge of terrorism while at the same time maintaining democratic norms and freedoms of their people,” he said. “That is an essential struggle inherent, I think, to confronting terrorism.”

In recent years, extremist groups have moved much of their recruitment and propaganda efforts to social media platforms. Potential terrorists have also taken to using encrypted forms of communication to plan deadly attacks.

In response, many countries have moved to pass laws that would ensure government access to Internet companies’ data.

Several U.S. lawmakers are pushing for legislation that would compel companies to decrypt data upon government request. Another recently introduced bill would require social media firms to report potential terrorist activity to authorities.

Xinhua defended its own measure by referencing these efforts and other U.S. laws that mandate firms comply with certain national security-related requests for data.

“Many countries, including the United States, have written into law a technology firms' duty to cooperate in terror-related surveillance or probe,” the editorial said.

“Finger pointing and exercising double standards will only undermine the global united front to fight against terrorism,” it added. “If they keep the common interests of mankind in mind, some people would know which side to stand for.”