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China passes antiterrorism law that critics fear will overreach

The shopping neighborhood of Sanlitun in Beijing was under reinforced guard by People’s Armed Police troops Sunday after fears of attacks there around Christmas.Andy Wong/Associated Press

BEIJING — China’s legislature approved an antiterrorism law Sunday after months of international controversy, including criticism from human rights groups, business lobbies, and President Obama.

Critics had said the draft version of the law used a recklessly broad definition of terrorism, gave the government new censorship powers, and authorized state access to sensitive commercial data.

The government argued that the requirements were needed to prevent terrorist attacks. Opponents countered that the new powers could be abused to monitor peaceful citizens and steal technological secrets.

Whether the complaints persuaded the government to dilute the bill was not clear: State news media did not immediately publish the text of the new law. But an official who works for the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress indicated that at least some rules authorizing greater state access to encrypted data remained in the law.


“Not only in China, but also in many places internationally, growing numbers of terrorists are using the Internet to promote and incite terrorism, and are using the Internet to organize, plan, and carry out terrorist acts,” the official, Li Shouwei, told a news conference in Beijing.

Li, a criminal law expert, said the antiterrorism law included a requirement that telecommunication and Internet service providers “shall provide technical interfaces, decryption, and other technical support and assistance to public security and state security agencies when they are following the law to avert and investigate terrorist activities.”

The approval by the legislature, which is controlled by the Communist Party, came as Beijing has become increasingly jittery about antigovernment violence, especially in the ethnically divided region of Xinjiang in western China, where members of the Uighur minority have been at growing odds with the authorities.

Also, over the weekend, the shopping neighborhood of Sanlitun in Beijing was under reinforced guard by People’s Armed Police troops after several foreign embassies, including that of the United States, warned that there were heightened security risks there around Christmas.


Human rights groups have warned the new law will give even more intrusive powers to the Chinese government, which already has broad, virtually unchecked authority to monitor and detain citizens and to demand information from companies and Internet services.