China passed its controversial anti-terrorism law yesterday despite months of objections from US tech firms and politicians.
The legislation (full text here) which requires telecom operators and internet service providers to render “technical support and assistance, including decryption,” was passed with a unanimous vote at the bi-monthly session of the National People’s Congress. The law will go into effect on January 1.
Despite the requirements set out by the law, many tech firms, like Apple, do not hold the encryption keys to individual devices and would be unable to provide access to customers’ data even if requested to do so.
Earlier this year in an interview with Reuters, President Obama himself raised his concerns over the planned regulations, urging Beijing to change the policy if it wanted to continue doing business with the US. Chinese officials, however, have strenuously denied that such suspicions are warranted.
“Our assessment is such requirements do not affect companies’ normal business operations,” said Li Shouwei, a deputy director of the criminal law office of the National People’s Congress. “And there is no such issue of China using the requirement as a back door to violate companies’ intellectual property or, as you suggested, to violate citizens’ freedom of speech and religion.”
It will be interesting to see what effect the legislation will have on the tech sector, as losing access to the highly lucrative Chinese market may not be an option for many companies. Several may be faced with the choice of sacrificing user privacy to safeguard their commercial interests.