China tightens state secrets law

BEIJING, April 29, 2010 (AFP) - China tightened a controversial state secrets law on Thursday so that Internet and mobile phone operators now have to to inform on their customers.
The law, which has in the past been used to jail high-profile dissidents, was passed by the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee, China's top law-making body.
"Operators and service providers must cooperate with demands made by police, state security and prosecution agencies in pursuing criminals, and cooperate with investigations," committee member Sun Zhenping said in comments on the body's website.
"Operators and service providers that discover some people have used the Internet to publish information that relates to leaking state secrets must immediately report it to relevant authorities," he told reporters.
Sun added that under the amended law, they were also required to "delete the information according to the demands of relevant authorities".
The law came to global prominence when Australian executive Stern Hu of mining giant Rio Tinto was charged with violating the state secrets law after he was detained in July last year. But the charges were later watered down.
Human rights groups and legal activists have criticised "state secret" as an overly vague term, saying it is abused by the government to jail dissidents or prevent sensitive information being disclosed.
Analysts said the requirement for Internet and mobile phone operators to report information on state secrets would not change the current situation, as authorities were asking firms for this type of information already.
"The only thing it does is it gives another explicit, legal tool for the authorities to snoop," Jeremy Goldkorn, editor of Danwei.org, a website focused on China's media industry that is itself blocked in China, told AFP.
He added that it also gave them the right "to demand that anyone in the business of information not only self-censors but proactively informs on their users if they think something is going on".
According to a law expert interviewed earlier in the week by the official China Daily, however, the amendment was necessary in the digital age.
"Without cooperation from network carriers and service providers, authorities alone could not collect evidence or sort out the cases," Ma Huaide, a law professor at the China University of Political Science and Law, was quoted as saying.