The World Internet Conference Starts Today With The Main Objective of Raising Awareness Against Government Overreach On The Public Internet

Article By: Amnesty International USA

Leaders from the tech industry gathering in Wuzhen, China, this week for the third World Internet Conference should send a clear message to the Chinese government that they are not prepared to be complicit in the widespread abuse of the rights to freedom of expression and privacy.

The conference comes a week after China’s legislature rubber-stamped a draconian new Cyber Security Law which would require any tech company operating in China to undertake unprecedented levels of censorship and pass on personal information to the authorities with insufficient safeguards to protect freedom of expression and the right to privacy.

Tech companies attending the World Internet Conference must have the courage to speak out against the new Cyber Security Law. This draconian law codifies abusive practices and takes censorship to a level not previously seen in China,” said Patrick Poon, China researcher at Amnesty International.

The law poses a real threat to the global and open nature of the internet. Companies considering operating under such terms would become de facto surveillance agents of the authorities, and in doing so place individuals legitimately exercising their rights at risk.

Amnesty International’s analysis of the new law also finds that:

  • Internet sovereignty as described in the new law poses a real threat to an open and global internet.
  • Companies would be required to provide the authorities access to ‘critical infrastructure,’ without sufficient safeguards.
  • Companies face fines, suspension or termination if they don’t comply with the authorities’ requests.
  • Companies complying with the new law would risk contributing to human rights violations, contrary to their responsibilities.

Amnesty International’s submission to the National People’s Congress Standing Committee on a previously published draft of the cyber-security law can be found here:

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Facebook, Microsoft, and LinkedIn are among the tech firms expected to be on a charm offensive with Chinese officials at the World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, which starts today.

The new law codifies existing abusive practices and seeks to turn tech companies operating in China into de-facto state surveillance agents.” – Roseann Rife, East Asia Research Director at Amnesty International

China has made clear to Western companies what tune they must dance to if they want to gain or keep access to the riches of the Chinese market, currently dominated by national players like Tencent and Sina.

A new Cyber Security Law passed in China last week goes further than ever before in tightening the government’s already repressive grip on the internet, embodied by its “Great Firewall”. It is a vast human and technological system of Internet censorship without parallel in the world. The new law codifies existing abusive practices and seeks to turn tech companies operating in China into de-facto state surveillance agents.

The new law forces companies to pass on vast amounts of data, including personal information and to censor users’ posts with insufficient safeguards to protect freedom of expression and the right to privacy. Companies would be liable for substantial penalties if they fail to do so and there is no transparency about how the data will be used by the authorities.


President Xi Jinping has insisted that “no cyber security means no national security”, but companies do not have to look far to see the chilling reality of what “national security” can mean under China’s broad and vague legal provisions.Over the years the government has detained hundreds, if not thousands, of people on national security charges, often solely for expressing views online critical of the government.

In a case that demonstrates the government’s renewed intransigence, bloggers Lu Yuyu and Li Tingyu were criminally detained this year on the implausible charges of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” for compiling and posting publicly available data on social protests in China.

For the Tibetan blogger Drulko, a simple internet posting commenting on a picture showing a heavy presence of armed soldiers at an important Tibetan Buddhist site triggered his arrest. For this and reposting a news report about talks between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama, he was sentenced to three years imprisonment under the pretext of having “incited separatism”.

The new law substantially expands the state’s internet policing power. Information internet companies are required to remove and report to authorities would include items such as the data about protests in the blogs of Lu Yuyu and Li Tingyu, and Druklo’s messages about religious freedom, together with personal information, even before the police request it. This practice is not limited to people like Lu Yuyu, Li Tingyu and Druklo, who were on the government’s radar but also includes those whose activities have not yet attracted the authorities’ attention.

It is an Orwellian vision of the internet, a dragnet to trap those the government views as troublemakers, where the right to freedom of expression exists only at the discretion of the censors. Given the current political hardening under President Xi Jinping and the absence of an independent judiciary, there is no saying where the government will draw the line tomorrow.

Tech companies should use the opportunity of the gathering in Wuzhen to seriously question whether they are willing to do business on these terms. Are they prepared to be complicit in the abuse of individuals’ rights to freedom of expression and privacy online?

To avoid fines, suspension or termination of business or the shutting down of websites, the law will require internet companies to self-censor, or censor their own users, to an extent not previously seen, even in China.

If internet companies follow the letter of the new law, users who refuse to sign up to real name registration will have no access to phone networks, the internet, social media or instant messaging services. Censorship will not stop at social media posts but includes private messages as well.

“Internet Sovereignty”

The Chinese government has justified these draconian regulations by invoking the need to protect the country’s “internet sovereignty” and manage “threats from outside”. While governments must protect people from genuine security threats, “internet sovereignty” goes much further and threatens the very principles of a global and open internet.

Technology companies have a responsibility to respect the right to privacy and freedom of expression. They should challenge the new law and make known to the government the company’s principled opposition to implementing any requests or directives which violate fundamental human rights.

It is not easy for companies to navigate the often fraught and complex negotiations with the Chinese government, and many have been burnt before. But the message they must deliver to Chinese officials this week is that principles and people come first and the terms laid out in the Cyber Security Law are not ones they are prepared to sign up to.

This article was first published by Amnesty International and Amnesty International USA on 11/16/2016 under a by-nc-nd International Creative Commons License and was republished, with permission, in accordance with the Terms and Conditions of Amnesty International. *Tweets were added and embedded by Alternative Medi4.*

Categories: Amnesty International, Tech Stuff

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