The Evolution of China's Cybersecurity Laws

China and Internet Law, An Introduction

Like the U.S., and unlike an increasing number of countries around the world, China did not have a single universal data protection law. Instead, China regulated data privacy and cybersecurity issues through various industry-specific laws and a number of unenforced regulations. That being said, China also does not maintain a single central data protection authority charged with enforcing privacy laws. The absence of such an authority has created enforcement impediments and difficulties in issuing legal guidance. This is especially troubling for foreign businesses who are unfamiliar with the Chinese legal system. Thus, from a data protection and cybersecurity standpoint, China has a relatively difficult jurisdictional framework within which to work. 

In addition to having a complex network of laws and authorities for cybersecurity and data protection, China has created an internet heavy on censorship and light on anonymity. It is harder to "hide" on the internet or remain anonymous, as many internet users are required to provide their real names to service providers. Additionally, unlike the United States's Digital Millennium Copyright Act Section 512's Online Service Provider Safe Harbor, internet service providers in China can be held legally responsible for what their users post on their platforms. Therefore, internet service providers have a greater incentive to delete prohibited content and report them to the authorities. This has resulted in many internet service providers filtering their website(s) and adding fuel to the fire on the debate of the right to free speech on the internet.

In 2017, the (new) Cybersecurity Law has gone into effect and can be divided into two arenas: the censoring of information within China and the blocking of information from outside China. The language of the new law has reinforced China's desire to continue internet censorship, mainly in regards to any content that is politically sensitive, slanderous, or accusatory towards the Chinese government. Additionally, this new law appears to promote the blocking of international rivals from the market, in order for China to grow its internal economy and encourage domestic competition. How harshly this new law will be enforced has yet to be seen, as the Chinese government is notorious for its inconsistency in its enforcement of its censorship and cybersecurity laws.