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China gives Internet one more squeeze

HONG KONG (UCAN): The Chinese government is set to adopt a new Cybersecurity Law, which Human Rights Watch described on November 7 as a regressive measure designed to tighten censorship, as well as closer surveillance and other controls over the Internet operations.

As was expected, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee passed the controversial law during its October 31 to November 7 meeting.

“Despite widespread international concern from corporations and rights advocates for more than a year, Chinese authorities pressed ahead with this restrictive law without making meaningful changes,” Sophie Richardson, the China director for the human rights watchdog, said. “The already heavily censored Internet in China needs more freedom, not less.”

While many of the measures contained in the law are not new, most were previously only informally applied or defined at lower-level regulation.

But Richardson believes that elevating these powers in the Cybersecurity Law sends a signal that the government may enforce the requirements more strictly, leaving less leeway for technical companies to avoid implementation.

Beijing has a long record of tightly controlling online speech through censorship, harsh punishment and the use of restrictive technologies. But Internet control has reached new heights since the current president, Xi Jinping, assumed power in March 2013.

Human Rights Watch says that in the past year alone, the authorities have issued multiple directives to gag online speech, such as requiring staff to monitor content round the clock, criminalising the spreading of rumours about natural disasters and issuing new rules requiring app providers to keep user logs for 60 days to reduce the spread of what is termed illegal information.

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