Imagine it: the worst has come to pass, all hell has broken loose, and you are beset by disaster and calamity. What do you do?
According to a new proposed Chinese law that expands police powers, you’ll do the right thing and cut off internet access to the public.
China’s Ministry of Public Security introduced a draft regulation last Thursday that would allow law enforcement officials to cut internet access to the public during events like natural disasters, public health crises or times of social unrest.
“If necessary, police authorities at the county level and above can take measures to control the internet to deal with emergency situations after getting approval from the provincial or central governments,” reads the draft in part.
“County” is the second-lowest out of five tiers of governance in China, ranking only higher than “township.”
According to Caixin, this is the first time a rule has been introduced to allow law enforcement agencies to cut internet access to the public.
The new rule will also allow police to curb internet access outside of a crisis. According to the draft, county level police and above are allowed to cut internet access at a major public gathering or state event, or “when an individual or specific target (important public building or place) requires protection.”
Even without the proposed law coming to pass, the Chinese public has been cut off from internet access before. China blocked internet access to Xinjiang for ten months in the wake of ethnic riots that killed 197 and injured another 1,500 in 2009. Additionally, wireless internet signals around Tiananmen Square were preemptively cut off during last year’s military parade held to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.
The draft law also gives officials broader powers in censoring discussion on social media during times of crisis. China’s censors are always hardest at work during natural or man-made disasters. In the aftermath of the Tianjin explosions last year, censors worked overtime, liberally expunging thousand upon thousands of “dangerous” posts about the incident. Two weeks later, 197 individuals were punished for “spreading rumors” about the blasts and about the Chinese stock market.
Last month, China held its annual world’s most ironic internet conference in Wuzhen. At the conference, foreign visitors are given devices to access blocked sites, while domestic conference-goers must remain behind the Great Firewall. The summit, attended by Western tech leaders, came on the heels of China ranking dead last in Freedom House’s survey on Internet Freedom for the second year in a row.
It remains unclear when the proposed law will come into effect. But, if you aren’t able to check your WeChat and the sky happens to be falling down, it may already be too late for you.
By Charles Liu
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