China has published a draft cybersecurity law that consolidates Beijing's control over data, sparking concerns about speech, dissent and intellectual property rights.
The measure, released by the legislature in Beijing this week, would elevate Beijing's ability to obtain records of Internet users, block material it considers illegal and force businesses to provide government access to their software codes.
It would allow the government to shut down Internet access in areas where it deems public security is threatened, as well as require Internet users to use their real names, codifying a longtime goal of the government. The draft also would require data collected in China to be stored in China.
Beijing says the law is aimed at safeguarding cyberspace security and preventing the spread of "harmful" information online. But critics say the measure is too vague and will only increase China's ability to crush dissent.
Journalist Li Datong said the control of information is the real objective of the ruling Communist Party.
"Whether there is a law or not, it [the party] is going to do this kind of thing," Li said. "It’s in order to increase control, to give a so-called legal name to its personal exercise of control and let it legally do what it thinks."
Alan Tonelson, research fellow at the U.S. Business & Industrial Council Educational Foundation, said Western companies most likely would find the law unacceptable.
"It very much sounds like the Chinese government is telling the U.S. and other foreign technology companies, 'We are not going to let you continue selling your products and services in China unless you let us, the Chinese government, inside your software systems.' That's what I'm sure Beijing means by the word 'evaluate.' And that demand should be completely unacceptable from an American standpoint," Tonelson said.
Writer and commentator Yang Hengjun said the measure should be rewritten.
"I think it is a little vague, giving law enforcement too much authority — 'we can do this and we can do that' — but it [the draft] lacks directions," Yang said. "This means its interpretation depends on when and who is defining it." The law, he said, is solely for spelling out what law enforcement can do; more important, the law should define what law enforcement can't do.
Beijing has said it will accept feedback on the draft law until early August.
Earlier this month, China's parliament adopted a sweeping new national security law that critics say will further enshrine and expand the country's suppression of political dissent.
The law allows authorities to "take all necessary" measures to safeguard territorial sovereignty and ensure full control over the country's already tightly censored Internet.
Adrianna Zhang reported from Washington. This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Mandarin service.