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China’s New Cybersecurity Law Leaves Foreign Firms Guessing

President Xi Jinping spoke by video link to delegates at the World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, China, in November. The country is stepping up efforts to manage the internet within its borders. Credit Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

President Xi Jinping spoke by video link to delegates at the World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, China, in November. The country is stepping up efforts to manage the internet within its borders. Credit Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

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BEIJING — Sui-Lee Wee reports: As China moves to start enforcing a new cybersecurity law, foreign companies face a major problem: They know very little about it.

The law — which was rubber-stamped by the country’s Parliament last year — is part of wide-ranging efforts by Beijing to manage the internet within China’s borders. Those efforts have been stepped up in the years since Edward J. Snowden, the whistle-blower and former American intelligence contractor, revealed that foreign technology firms could help governments spy.

And while Chinese officials say the new rules will help guard against cyberattacks and prevent terrorism, critics, many of them from businesses, have their concerns. Companies worry that parts of the new law, which takes effect on Thursday, will make their operations in China less secure or more expensive. In some cases, they argue, it could keep them out entirely.

The law will have a big impact on how business is done in China, said Michael Chang, an executive with the Finnish technology company Nokia and the vice president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China. But, he said, “There’s unfortunately a lot of confusion.”

“Industry is not ready because the implementation rules are not clear,” Mr. Chang said, speaking at an event organized by the lobbying group to announce the results of its annual business confidence survey.

“We still have a lot of unclarified territory that needs to be addressed as soon as possible.”

The law would require that companies store their data within China, and would impose security checks on companies in sectors like finance and communications. Individual users, meanwhile, would have to register with their real names to use messaging services.

But Mr. Chang said that officials had conveyed “less than half” of the specifics of how the law would be implemented.

“A wide range of companies are doing data transfers — it’s the lifeblood of their business,” he said.

Executives have complained that the wording of the law is ambiguous, fearing that it gives China’s ruling Communist Party substantial leeway to target them.

One instance cited by Mats Harborn, president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, in a round-table discussion with journalists, was … (read more)

via The New York Times

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