Wed, Apr 28, 2010 - Page 1 News List

Chinese telecoms companies told to inform on clients


China is poised to pass a law requiring telecommunications and Internet companies to report any revelation of “state secrets,” potentially forcing businesses to collaborate with the country’s vast security apparatus that stifles political dissent.

The move to make communications companies monitor and inform on clients’ activities, reported yesterday by state media, comes as China continues tightening controls on the Internet and telecommunications services. It also follows a spat over censorship that prompted search giant Google Inc to move its Chinese site to Hong Kong last month.

A draft law submitted to the National People’s Congress (NPC) for review obliges telecoms operators and Internet service providers to help police and state security departments in investigations about leaks of state secrets, the state-run China Daily newspaper said.

In China, state secrets have been so broadly defined that virtually anything — maps, GPS coordinates, even economic statistics — could fall under the category, and officials sometimes use the classification as a way to avoid disclosing information.

Under the new legislation, all Internet providers and telecom companies would be required to detect, report and delete information deemed to be disclosing state secrets, the newspaper report said. It did not say what penalties for violations would be.

The draft law leaves a wide scope for what could be considered state secrets, defining them 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,” Xinhua news agency said.

The draft law was submitted on Monday to the NPC Standing Committee for a third review — usually the final stage before being adopted by lawmakers.

Chinese leaders appear determined to monitor the flow of information that reaches the world’s largest Internet population of 384 million users. The government recently also issued new regulations to tighten procedures for domain name registration and to remove Web sites that are not officially registered.

Chinese authorities view the control of information as key to heading off or controlling the spread of unrest. After deadly ethnic riots broke out in a Muslim region in western China in July, Beijing blocked Twitter and Facebook, unplugged the Internet entirely and slowed cellphone service to stifle reports about the violence.

Limited Internet and phone texting services were restored in recent months.

However, human rights activists say the information control is used to stifle any challenge to the Communist Party’s grip on power and to identify political activists and punish them.

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