China passes law that will force all tech companies to hand over encryption keys

The Chinese legislature recently passed a law that requires technology companies to comply with government requests for information, including handing over encryption keys. Among other requirements, the new rules state that telecom operators and internet service providers must “provide technical support and assistance, including decryption” to Chinese authorities to help prevent and investigate terrorist activities.

While it is said to be part of China’s counter-terrorism laws, the controversial law under the guise of counter-terrorism, is the Chinese government’s attempt to curtail the activities of militants and political activists. China already faces criticism from around the world not only for the infamous Great Firewall of China, but also the blatant online surveillance and censorship that takes place. This latest move is one that will be view very suspiciously by foreign companies operating within China, or looking to do so.

The law has attracted deep concern in Western capitals, not only because of worries it could violate human rights such as freedom of speech, but because of the cyber provisions. U.S. President Barack Obama has said that he had raised concerns about the law directly with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Li Shouwei, the deputy head of the Chinese parliament’s criminal law division tried to play down the controversy surrounding the new law. He said that China was simply doing what other Western nations already do in asking technology firms to help fight terror.

“This rule accords with the actual work need of fighting terrorism and is basically the same as what other major countries in the world do.”

This will not affect the normal operation of tech companies and they have nothing to fear in terms of having “backdoors” installed or losing intellectual property rights, he added.

Th The anti-terrorism law also permits the People’s Liberation Army to get involved in anti-terrorism operations overseas, which is something that will be looked upon with suspicion and likely opposed by for foreign nations. According to reports by Reuters, there is also a provision that “media and social media cannot report on details of terror activities that might lead to imitation, nor show scenes that are ‘cruel and inhuman’ ” – something else which will bring about an accusation of standing in the way of free speech.

The law goes into effect on January 1st. It is unclear how Apple and Google and other tech companies will react to China’s new law.