Bolting a dead-locked door

28 Apr 2010

This sounds like bolting the stable door even though it is dead-locked: a proposed law will require Chinese telcos to cooperate with authorities to uncover leaks of state secrets.

In an amendment to a draft state secrets law, “information transmissions should be immediately stopped if they are found to contain state secrets,” Xinhua has reported.

“The amendment says once a leak has been discovered, records should be kept and discoverers should report it to public and state security departments in charge of confidentiality,” it adds.

The drafting of the Law on Guarding State Secrets law follows – and appears to be a response to - the conviction of four employees of mining firm Rio Tinto for bribery and theft of commercial secrets. The case alarmed foreign businesses in China because of the vagueness of the law and the lack of details about the data that they had obtained.

The draft is hardly more helpful. It defines a state secret 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.” You could build a Great Firewall through those loopholes.

It’s hard to see what difference the amendment would make. Chinese telcos are all state-owned and their top executives are communist party officials, so there is no reluctance to cooperate with police and public security officials.

The same goes for domestic and foreign internet firms, as the 2005 Shi Tao case confirmed; the Hunan journalist was jailed for 10 years after Yahoo passed on his details to authorities.

New York Timesspeculates that the effect may be to make operators and ISPs more active in scrutinizing the data transmitted over their networks.

But there are some domestic critics - or at least one. Kan Kaili, an outspoken professor at Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, told the Times, “If the government insists on doing that, I would suggest they rewrite the Constitution. Otherwise, it is clearly illegal.”

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