A senior White House official cited by Reuters said that China has decided to shelve a new anti-terrorism law that would have required technology companies to hand over sensitive information.
As my colleague Ankit reported earlier, China’s draft anti-terrorism law would have required Western firms – most notably technological companies, but also financial institutions and even manufacturers – to give Beijing unprecedented access to sensitive data. For tech firms, that would mean allowing China access to encryption keys and installing “backdoors” that would provide Chinese regulators with access to software.
The Obama administration reacted swiftly to make their displeasure known. President Barack Obama himself spoke with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, to directly express his concerns. “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 told Reuters. Other administration officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman made their concerns clear as well.
Publicly, China has simply dismissed those criticisms. Fu Ying, the spokesperson for the National People’s Congress, said the law had already been tweaked after “hot discussions among legislators.” Fu said the law had been “improved” by the addition of “strict condition and limits” on what data regulators can demand from tech firms and when they can demand it.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying highlighted these changes in her remarks at a March 5 press conference, saying that the “relevant measures… are in line with the principles of the administrative law and common practices of the world, and will by no means undermine the legitimate interests of Internet operators.” Hua added pointedly that China’s anti-terrorism law is a domestic affair: “We are under no obligation to consult with other countries, and other countries have no right to ask China to do so.”
But Reuters reports that China has decided behind the scenes to table the controversial law, at least for now. “They have decided to suspend the third reading of that particular law, which has sort of put that on hiatus for the moment,” White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Michael Daniel said during a discussion at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation on March 12.