Privacy and freedom of speech in China have long been on a downward trajectory, continuing to decline with each passing day. Every new law makes human rights one step closer to circling the drain. China’s privacy and speech laws are designed not only to burden those in China and rob their citizens of their voices, but also to negatively impact the world in an attempt to make global technology giants enforce China’s restrictions on their behalf.
One seventh of the world’s total population lives in China, giving them a significant share of any market. If companies refuse to comply with Chinese law, they aren’t allowed to serve nearly one billion people. Some companies, particularly beauty and cosmetic companies who refuse to test on animals, are happy to let the Chinese market go in favor of their ethics. Other companies, particularly those who deal with personal data, will need to make some very important decisions.
The Internet Was Already Censored
The internet, as you know it, does not exist in China. Things you take for granted, like the ability to post on Facebook or Instagram, or even read the uncensored national news, simply aren’t possible for citizens of China. China’s rules have slowly infiltrated Hong Kong, which was initially intended to retain its more liberal system after rejoining the mainland.
Nothing you do online or over the phone can be private in China. The internet is fully blocked, leaving the country to rely on an intranet that includes China-only social media platforms and government approved news sources. Any apps made available in the App Store or Google Play store may only be used in China if they allow the Chinese government unmitigated access on the back end, allowing them to retain anything transmitted through those apps.
Two new laws aim to increase the frightening violations of privacy in an already Orwellian country. China’s new data law called the Personal Information Protection Law will work in conjunction with restrictions placed against bloggers to further isolate Chinese citizens from the global conversation.
The New Law for Personal Data
It’s a good idea to protect personal data. That’s what GDPR is for. There has to be a system to assure that people’s personal data is secure. China’s version of GDPR, called PIPL, is not going to go over as well as GDPR.
Most of PIPL is great. Some parts that seem thorough might appear great on the surface, but are actually loaded with sinister implications.
PIPL is drafted almost the exact same way as GDPR. In many ways, the documents are nearly identical. The biggest difference comes in the way that China requires PIPL to be enforced. Any businesses that sell to people in China or work with Chinese clients are required to use a designated representative in China to process that data and assure compliance.
This law isn’t to protect Chinese citizens, but to secure a loophole. If someone makes a purchase or uses a service outside of the country, whoever is responsible for data security at that company is required to hand all of that information over to the Chinese government. This can include women who simply want to purchase cosmetics that haven’t been tested on animals. It can include people persecuted by the government seeking legal assistance or trying to locate an apartment outside of China. The government will now know everything that their citizens are doing when dealing with businesses or service providers outside of the country.
This means that, even if these people use a VPN to make online purchases or long term travel reservations, their privacy is invaded. If the company they’re exchanging data with knows that they’re located in mainland China, they’re required to tell the government they’ve collected data from them.
Companies that cannot or refuse to comply with this ridiculous request will be fined by the Chinese government and denied the right to do business with people who live within the borders of the country. Spy on Chinese citizens on behalf of their government, or lose the ability to provide your products and services to nearly one billion people.
The New Law for Bloggers
Many Chinese citizens use VPNs to access social media, news, and blogging platforms. Since there is no surefire way to block the use of stealth protocol VPNs, a new proposed set of restrictions will outright make speech illegal. Now, independent bloggers and even casual reporters need special credentials and approval for the things they intend to say on the internet. Even if they manage to circumvent blocks and censors to post online, the words they say without approval of the government will now be regarded as criminal.
The new rule uses the phrase “damaging societal harmony” to describe what is and isn’t allowed online. This phrase seems to be purposefully vague, allowing the government to pick and choose at its own whims what kind of content is and isn’t considered harmful.
Accounts without approval from the government are now no longer allowed to post commentary on politics of public affairs, the military, economics, the judicial system, education, or healthcare. Essentially, they are not allowed to discuss current events or real-world matters at all.
Citizens of China Will Continue to Find Holes in the Firewall
Citizens of China, particularly those living in Hong Kong, have a history of being incredibly critical and intolerant of the nanny-state and the overreaching hands of the Chinese government. Many still use stealth protocol VPNs (like TorGuard) to communicate under anonymous usernames on private channels (like Discord servers). China will not defeat the will of its citizens. One way or another, they’re strong and brave enough to get the word out and remain a part of the global conversation. TorGuard is proud to support advocates for freedom of speech and help them defy unjust censorship.