- The Washington Times - Friday, December 2, 2016

Stringent cybersecurity legislation recently approved by the Chinese government has spawned a spat between Beijing and some of the United States’ biggest tech companies, according to a new report.

Microsoft, Intel and IBM are formally opposing a new cybersecurity law that could potentially force tech companies to supply the Chinese government with their products’ proprietary source code, The Wall Street Journal reported this week.

Passed by China’s top legislature in November, critics have interpreted the nation’s new cybersecurity law to mean that companies could soon have to cough up their source codes in order to demonstrate to the government that their products are incapable of being hacked.

China’s national cybersecurity standards setter, Technical Committee 260, recently published a Chinese-language report on the law in anticipation of it taking effect in June. According to the Wall Street Journal, the three American tech titans joined dozens of Chinese companies, government agencies and security experts in raising concerns over the rule.

“Sharing source code in itself can’t prove the capability to be secure and controllable,” Microsoft reportedly wrote. “It only proves there is source code.”

Disclosing proprietary information “would hurt technological innovation and decrease the security level of products,” Intel said in a statement of its own, the newspaper reported.

Following the law’s passage last month, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission issued a report raising concerns about provisions requiring foreign companies to probe its products are “secure and controllable.”

The report said “while the term is not clearly defined, foreign companies and industry groups fear it would compel foreign companies to give the Chinese government access to networks, encryptions keys and source code, as well as require data storage within the country.”

IBM said last year that it had allowed the Chinese government to review some of its proprietary source code in a controlled environment, the commission’s report said. Microsoft suggested in challenging the new legislation that it could allow Chinese authorities to to view its code at a new “Transparency Center” in Beijing instead of sharing it, but Technical Committee 260 staffers said that response was “not accepted.”

All three tech companies declined to comment beyond their Chinese language remarks contained in the committee’s report, The Journal reported.

“We believe this is a step backwards for innovation in China that won’t do much to improve security,” James Zimmerman, chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China, said in a statement when the law was passed last month.

“The law fits international trade protocol and its purpose is to safeguard national security,” Zhao Zeliang, director-general of the bureau of cybersecurity for the Cyberspace Administration of China, said previously of the legislation. “China’s cybersecurity requirements are not being used as a trade barrier.”

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