China this week passed a cybersecurity law aimed at combatting hacking and terrorism, though as Reuters reports, critics say it would strengthen the country's censorship regime and make it more difficult for foreign tech companies to do business there. The law was passed on Monday and is set to go into effect in June 2017.
The legislation requires agencies and companies to improve their network defense systems and calls for security reviews in so-called "critical" sectors. It also tightens China's already expansive censorship program by holding companies accountable for any unapproved information that they allow to spread online, according to The Wall Street Journal, which notes that many of the law's other provisions formalize practices that were already in place.
Government officials say the law is necessary to thwart growing online threats. "China is an internet power, and as one of the countries that faces the greatest internet security risks, urgently needs to establish and perfect network security legal systems," Yang Heqing, of the National People's Congress standing committee, tells Reuters.
Foreign companies have strongly criticized the law, saying it will harm business and trade. The list of critical sectors covers a wide range of businesses, including telecommunications, transportation, and finance, and there are concerns that requirements for "secure and controllable" products could exclude foreign technologies.
Other provisions require companies to store personal and business-related data on servers located in China, and to provide "technical support" to authorities during criminal investigations. Such requirements have raised concerns that foreign tech companies may have to disclose intellectual property or provide the government with backdoor access to continue doing business in the country. More than 40 companies petitioned Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in August calling for the law to be amended, though contentious provisions remained in the version passed this week.
China has gradually expanded its online controls under President Xi Jinping. Last year, it passed a broad and vaguely worded national security law that critics said would make it easier for the government to quash dissent. Rights groups have raised similar concerns about the law passed on Monday.
"Despite widespread international concern from corporations and rights advocates for more than a year, Chinese authorities pressed ahead with this restrictive law without making meaningful changes," Sophie Richardson, China Director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement Monday. "The already heavily censored internet in China needs more freedom, not less."