China is scratching its head over why the U.S. is opposing a new anti-terror law relating to cybersurveillance when the U.S. and other countries have also requested that tech companies hand over data to help stop terrorists.
On Wednesday, China’s parliamentary spokeswoman tried to play down the impact the proposed legislation might have on foreign tech businesses, in the face of U.S. fears it would require companies to hand over sensitive data to the country’s government.
The anti-terror law is still under review, but if passed, it would require tech companies to give encryption keys to the authorities, and create “back doors” into their systems for government surveillance access.
On Monday, President Barack Obama said in an interview with Reuters that he’s urged the country to change the legislation, and even raised the matter directly with China’s president.
“We have made it very clear to them that this is something they are going to have to change if they are to do business with the United States,” Obama said.
But on Wednesday, Fu Ying, the spokeswoman of China’s National People’s Congress, said that the U.S. probably misunderstands the proposed regulations.
To prevent and investigate terrorist activities, the legislation asks that the government be allowed to leverage Internet and telecommunication technology, she said at a news conference.
“This approach is also common with international practice, and will not affect the legitimate interests of Internet firms,” Fu said. Under the proposed legislation, only Chinese security forces will be privy to the surveillance data.
“In reality, the U.S., U.K., and other Western countries have spent many years demanding that tech companies disclose their encryption methods,” Fu said.
The U.S., in particularly, has faced controversy for spying on communications across the world, including China, according to leaks from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.
Following the leaks, China has made cybersecurity a national priority. Last year, the government announced it would develop a “vetting system” to weed out secret spying systems from important IT products sold in the country.
China’s new regulations have the potential to shut out U.S. tech businesses from the market, according to analysts.
On Wednesday, Fu struck a more conciliatory tone and said U.S. enterprises have played a crucial role in China’s economic development. “We also especially hope that foreign businesses will be able to continue to support, and participate in our reform process,” she said, adding that the Chinese government will listen to input on refining the anti-terror legislation.
But Fu also said that she was well aware that the U.S. has imposed its own restrictions on Chinese business in the past. She pointed to one example of a Chinese sausage maker even facing a U.S. government security probe after it wanted to supply pork from the country.
“The U.S. tends to treat Chinese companies with this kind of attention and restriction often, according to the views from our businesses,” Fu said.