China Passes Opaque Cybersecurity Bill

Shen Chunchen/AP 
Shanghai, China photographed on April 5, 2016. 

The new regulations are, as is typical for digital rules in the country, relatively inscrutable.

China has passed a new cybersecurity bill that will prevent "attempts to overthrow the socialist system, split the nation, undermine national unity, advocate terrorism and extremism," according to state news agency Xinhua. The bill also forbids activities "including inciting ethnic hatred, discrimination and spreading violence and obscene information online." It was passed during a session of the National People's Congress Standing Committee which concluded today (Nov. 7).

A previous draft of the bill drew criticism earlier this year from tech companies based outside of the country, who voiced concern over requirements that their data remain "secure and controllable" within the country, as the Wall Street Journal reported at the time. The Journal also confirmed that Microsoft and Cisco were involved in the draft process of the bill.

Over the past several years the country has taken large strides towards the legitimization of online content after long years of dramatic piracy rates. Last August it removed millions of songs from several providers who were characterized as being slower to legitimize the content they had available.

Despite this, digital companies based outside of China face opaque regulations around content which essentially leave content rule enforcement at the Ministry of Culture's discretion, as a list of rules around the management of digital music catalogs made public last year made clear. Last year, just before that list of rules was released, Apple Music launched in the country, and no problems with that catalog have percolated into public view. (That said, the Ministry of Culture's rules inherently favor companies with direct connections to China's government, as Apple no doubt does -- as well as the country's tech incumbents like Tencent and Alibaba.)