New Chinese law takes aim at encryption

If requested, service providers must help the government decrypt content

A new law passed by China's Parliament on Sunday requires technology companies to assist the government in decrypting content, a provision that the country maintains is modeled after Western law.

ISPs and telecommunication companies must provide technical assistance to the government, including decrypting communications, for terrorism-related investigations, according to Xinhua, China's official news agency.

Xinhua quoted Li Shouwei, of the National People's Congress Standing Committee legislative affairs commission, as saying the law doesn't require technology companies to install "backdoors," the term for code that would give security agencies consistent, secret access to data, in software.

The law comes into force in January, according to a separate Xinhua story. China officials said the law is necessary for conducting anti-terrorisms operations, but critics worry it could have far-reaching impacts in a country with a much-criticized human rights record. There are also concerns over how the law will impact Western technology companies in China.

ISPs and service providers can also face a fine or jail time if they fail to stop transmitting content that is considered extremist or related to terrorism, Xinhua reported.

In the U.S., technology companies have been fighting increasing calls from lawmakers to engineer systems that can allow easier access by law enforcement.

Many companies have moved ahead in designing systems in which they do not retain a decryption key for scrambled data. That makes it more difficult for law enforcement and security agencies to decrypt communications without knowing a person's passcode or password. 

There is also fierce opposition to building backdoors into software products, which security experts contend could be discovered and abused by hackers or state-sponsored cyber spies.

The move to build more secure systems gained momentum after documents leaked in 2013 by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed large-scale data collection operations by Western intelligence agencies, including the U.S. and U.K.

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Jeremy Kirk

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