Note: The Skinny blog is written by Rick Smith, editor and co-founder of Local Tech Wire and business editor of

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – As Web and Internet thought leaders from around the world gather in Raleigh this week for the WWW 2010 conference, they can thank their maker that the event is the US of A, not Beijing.

So you really want to live or work in China, eh?

Well, then you must be prepared to face even more Big Brother spying on your actions.

China’s authoritarian government is taken even more drastic steps to crack down on Internet usage with a new law that would require telecommunications and Internet companies to spy on their customers.

Fresh from its battle with Google that sent the search engine scurrying to Hong Kong rather than kowtow to censorship demands, the Chinese rulers now want legislation that it says will protect “state secrets.”

sum up the law succinctly and chillingly:

“Police to work with phone, Internet providers”

“Communication companies must ‘detect, report and delete’ information about State secrets”

“Must” is pretty unequivocal.

But note the “detect and delete” wording. Now that’s even more interesting. These companies are not only spying but playing an enforcement role.

The Skinny admires The Associated Press reporters in China who have courageously reported on censorship. Here’s what Gillian Wong reported in Beijing today about the new law:

“China is poised to pass a law requiring telecommunications and Internet companies to report any revelation of state secrets, potentially forcing businesses to collaborate with the country’s vast security apparatus that stifles political dissent.”

The law is a “draft,” Wong noted, but he said passage by the National People’s Congress is expected.

How far reaching is it?

“In China, state secrets have been so broadly defined that virtually anything – maps, GPS coordinates, even economic statistics – could fall under the category, and officials sometimes use the classification as a way to avoid disclosing information,” Wong wrote.

With more Internet users (384 million) than the U.S. has people (260 million), China’s mammoth wired population presents a tremendous challenge to the armies of censors that already prowl the net.

China also strives to control the net as a means of suppressing dissent.

Note this passage from the China Daily story:

“Officials have blamed phone text messages as a tool for criminals to instigate the deadly July 5 riot last year in Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.”

How tough is the law?

“The latest version, in addition to requiring telecom and Internet operators to detect, report and delete information that disclose State secrets, also stipulates the clear obligation for them to work with relevant authorities on investigations,” China Daily reported.

“If the draft law is approved, both domestic operators and international operators on Chinese territory must comply with it, law experts” told the newspaper.

One wonders if any other companies will soon join Google in taking a stand against such repression – or stick to business as usual.

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