A second wind in old fears – terrorism and fake news, has provided some flight to China’s ambitions to tighten up regulation of the Internet.
Pointing to the ability of militants to organize online and the spread of false news items during the recent U.S. election as signs cyberspace had become dangerous and unwieldy, calls for more rigid cyber governance were given by Chinese officials and business leaders speaking at the third World Internet Conference held in Wuzhen last week.
The process was akin to “installing brakes on a car before driving on the road”, said Ren Xianling, the vice minister of China’s top internet authority.
Recommendation of using identification systems for netizens who post fake news and rumors, so they could “reward and punish” them was made by Ren, number two at the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC).
The spread of false and malicious information generated by users, which some say helped sway the U.S. presidential election in favor of Republican candidate Donald Trump, could be the reason for U.S. social networks Facebook Inc and Twitter Inc facing a backlash and the comments come amidst such a growing anguish aboyt te social media sites.
Including a controversial cybersecurity law passed earlier this month, rules that overseas business groups say could block foreign firms from the market, China has formalized a series of internet controls over the last year.
The growth and innovation that is boosting Chinese influence in global tech, could be hindered by such controls, some fear.
A glimpse of China’s tougher new stance was given at the Wuzhen conference, held annually in the picturesque town outside Shanghai. This year attendees were not given access to websites normally blocked by China’s ‘Great Firewall’, including Google and Facebook unlike in past years.
Repeating calls to respect “cyber sovereignty” – the imposition of government controls over cyberspace within China’s borders, President Xi Jinping addressed the conference in a short video speech.
The U.S.-led view, which encourages non-government stakeholders to take the lead in governing specific internet industries, and e Chinese comments on cyber sovereignty is seen as a direct challenge to the U.S. view.
“The value of the internet comes from its flexibility,” said Jared Ragland, senior director of policy for the Asia-Pacific region at software lobbyist group BSA.
“We don’t think it would be helpful to start treating it like a public utility that can be walled off behind borders.”
Concerns of heavy-handed surveillance and local data storage requirements have been sparked by China’s new cyber law, which comes into effect in June next year. The law does not target foreign firms and is designed to mitigate cyber terrorism threats to “critical infrastructure”, China’s internet regulator says.
A UN officer was quoted by Reuters saying that though a stalemate over the definition of cyber-terrorism has hampered efforts, UN officials attending the conference are also currently weighing the possibility of a multilateral cyber-terrorism treaty.
Including representatives from Facebook, International Business Machines Corp, Qualcomm Inc and Tesla Motors Inc., despite the recent regulatory chill, several leading foreign tech firms joined the conference.
In a speech on digital globalization, China’s “hustle” and “pragmatism” was praised by Reid Hoffman, chairman and co-founder of LinkedIn Corp, a professional networking site. Regulators ruled to block the company’s site in Russia, a country that also champions cyber sovereignty, the following day.
(Adapted from Reuters)