While the debate on the topic rages on in the West, China now has joined Kazakhstan in the club of nations that have compromised the encryption of their citizens’ data for the sake of the state. As part of new anti-terrorism legislation passed by China’s legislature, internet companies that operate within the borders of China are required to hand over encryption keys and passwords to data when requested by the government.
This turn of events in China has concerned many in the West who fear that this new legislation may put their business and interests in China in jeopardy. Even Barack Obama weighed in on the debate when the law was drafted earlier this year, stating “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.”
A Chinese official who is involved in the regulation, Li Shouwei, attempted to assure that the law would not involve setting up government backdoors. “Relevant regulations in the anti-terrorism law will not affect the normal business operation of companies, and we do not use the law to set up ‘backdoors’ to violate the intellectual property rights of companies.” He further stated that “The law will not damage people’s freedom of speech or religion.”
It is currently unclear how this new law will affect companies such as Apple (whose iPhone has a large market share in China), who do not hold encryption keys or passwords to devices. Will it come down to Western companies using their weight in the Chinese market to slip through if decryption is impossible, or will the Chinese government force them to compromise their principles and security to avoid being locked out of the lucrative Chinese market. With the law coming into effect on 1st of January, the answer could come sooner than we think.
With another country’s government rendering privacy and encryption worthless against their whim, could this spur the governments of Europe and America to consider more strongly restricting encryption. We can only hope that seeing such laws in action will drive them away from imposing similar laws on their own citizens believing it will make the world safer.