China to Perform Security Inspections for Tech Products

Apple store in Beijing. Photo by Chinnian via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Apple store in Beijing. Photo by Chinnian via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Chinese government will soon institute a series of state-mandated technical security standards on technology products and services. Experts from the National Internet Information Office (NIIO), part of China's State Department, will scrutinize products and services to be used for communications, finance, energy, national security and other purposes.

The system is intended to protect “national Internet security”, office spokesperson Jiang Jun told the press. One day before the announcement, Beijing banned the use of Microsoft's Windows 8 on government computers.

Though Jiang Jun claimed that the inspection system is for both domestic and foreign products and services, he also stressed that, “for a long time, governments and enterprises of a few countries have gathered sensitive information on a large scale, taking advantage of their monopoly in the market and technological edge…They not only seriously undermine interests of their clients but also threaten cyber security of other countries.”

Jiang Jun also emphasized that the US government has a similar law that inspects foreign IT products and services. In 2012, the US congress investigated on Huawei and ZTE and warned that the two Chinese IT corporations were threats to the country's security.

Many thus see the system as a direct response to recent tensions between Beijing and Washington over the issue of cyber spying. In a recent incident, five Chinese military officers were indicted for hacking into the computers of six American corporations and stealing industrial secrets.

On Weibo, nationalist bloggers described the system as a hard blow to anti-China forces and suggested that Internet giants in the US including Cisco, IBM and Microsoft would be affected.

The policy could also have adverse effects for a wide range of applications used by citizens, including censorship circumvention tools. Last year, a circumvention tool called Open Door was removed from the Apple Store in China. Now Chinese authorities have a legal basis to pressure service providers to take down similarly “illegal” applications.

Under the new system, vetting of technology products will fall under the supervision of NIIO. The agency's public statement said “the vetting is aimed to prevent a supplier from taking the advantage of its product to illegally control, disturb or shut down computer systems of its clients, as well as gather, store, process or use information of its clients.”

Fang Bingxing, the father of China's so-called Great Firewall, told local press that the inspection system will create a “black list” and a “white list”. Only the white listed products can enter China. Beijing will start with inspecting strategic IT products and services.

Local media explained that before the information products enter the China market, including hardware such as smart phones, computers and other mobile devices, and softwares such as computer operating systems, programs and applications, they will be required to undergo technical inspection to ensure that the products do not pose a threat to national security. Apart from security threats, products that would result in a market monopoly would also be subjected to a ban as it would bring adverse effects to social and economic security.

The policy is a poignant illustration of the tensions between security, social control, and economic growth that China faces. How it takes shape in the coming months may be an indication of deeper interests concerning information and finance among government leaders

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