Beijing is expanding its draconian measures to police the internet to include service providers and any company that uses the internet in China, according to a recent announcement by Chinese state media.
The latest “internet safety supervision and inspection regulations” announced by China’s Ministry of Public Security were reported by China’s state-run Xinhua on Oct. 4.
Chinese internet-service providers include China Telecom, China Unicom, and China Mobile.
Under the new rules, any official within China’s security apparatus can now enter a company’s premises, computer mainframe rooms, and any other workspace, for the purpose of carrying out an inspection. Upon entering, security officials can demand that supervisors or internet administrators submit to questioning. The officials also can look up and make copies of any information relevant to the inspection.
Security officials are now empowered to dispense administrative punishment or penal action for any behavior or action by companies or service providers that they deem to be illegal.
The new regulations will be implemented beginning Nov. 1, according to Xinhua.
Mr. Liao, an internet activist in China, said in an interview with Radio Free Asia (RFA) that the intention behind the latest regulation is very clear: to tighten Beijing’s control of the internet in a further crackdown on freedom of speech.
The timing of the regulation has to do with the ongoing trade war between China and the United States, Liao said. Even though Beijing has imposed censorship on any negative reporting on China in the trade war, many Chinese netizens have been able to bypass China’s Great Firewall, using anti-censorship software to access uncensored information outside of China.
An example of anti-censorship software is Freegate, which is free to use. It was developed by U.S.-based company Dynamic Internet Technology (DIT).
In September, U.S. President Donald Trump slapped tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods, and in retaliation, Being proposed 10 percent tariffs on $60 billion of U.S. goods.
Currently, any negotiations to resolve the trade war would probably take place after the Nov. 6 U.S. midterm elections, according to comments made by U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in a recent interview with Reuters. He said, “Chinese officials do not appear in a mood to talk at the moment.”
Chinese netizens have been known to express their opinions on the trade war specifically on one platform—the U.S. Embassy’s account on Sina Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter. That is because their comments, sometimes critical of Beijing, are less likely to be deleted by Chinese censorship.
The latest regulation is also an indication of how China might go about enforcing its latest cybersecurity law, which went into effect on June 1, 2017.
Among its requirements is mandating all internet-service providers and companies that hold large amounts of Chinese citizens’ data to store their data physically in China. The U.S. government was among those who expressed security concerns that data stored on Chinese servers would be susceptible to built-in backdoors by Chinese companies, which would allow the Chinese regime access to trade secrets or intellectual property from foreign companies.
In January, Apple announced that in compliance with the cybersecurity law, data from Chinese customers’ iCloud accounts would be hosted and managed by Guizhou-Cloud Big Data (GCBD), a tech company with links to China’s military and directly owned by an agency by the Guizhou provincial government.