China today adopted an amendment to the State Secrets Law forcing Internet and telecommunications companies to cooperate closely with the authorities on matters relating to national security.
Under the amendment, which will take effect on 1 October, companies in these two sectors will be required to block transmission of state secrets over their networks, keep records of the activity and alert the authorities to possible violations. They could also be forced to suppress certain kinds of content.
“This new amendment adds to an already sizable legal arsenal aimed at controlling news and information on the Chinese Internet,” Reporters Without Borders said. “In practice, these companies already cooperate with the authorities on national security matters. It remains to be seen if the government expects a more pro-active role from them or if it is just putting existing practices into writing in order legitimise them. The law does not say whether foreign companies are affected. If they are, we urge them to resists the excessive demands of the Chinese censors.”
The press freedom organisation added: “The definition of ‘state secret’ is very broad and leaves the door open to all sorts of abuses. The authorities often use it to justify jailing dissidents and journalists so this amendment seems, on the one hand, to be yet another warning designed to encourage netizens to censor themselves and, on the other, an attempt to present an illusion of legality to the international community.”
The head of the National Administration for the Protection of State Secrets told journalists at a briefing today that the law was designed to protect “national security and state secrets” and that other laws existed to protect the communications of individual citizens.
When people are charged with violating state secrets, they or their lawyers are rarely allowed to see the details of the charges or the evidence against them.