Top legislature revises Law on Guarding State Secrets
Revision highlights technological innovation, protection in secrecy amid new global challenges
Published: Feb 28, 2024 08:46 PM
A concept photo of cybersecurity Photo: VCG

A concept photo of cybersecurity Photo: VCG

Chinese lawmakers on Tuesday voted to adopt a revised Law on Guarding State Secrets at a session of the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee, to take effect on May 1. The revision, the first in 14 years, aims to comprehensively enhance the confidentiality management of state secrets, particularly in cyberspace, amid new challenges brought by an accelerating technological revolution both domestically and internationally, Chinese officials expounded on Wednesday.

The Law on Guarding State Secrets, which was enacted in 1998 and revised in 2010, is a fundamental and comprehensive legal framework in the field of secrecy in China. On Wednesday, observers lauded the introduction of the revised secrecy law, saying it aligns particularly well with the characteristics of this new era marked by unprecedented changes in a century. They noted that it also demonstrates China's proactive response to the changing dynamics of the times.

As we enter the new era, profound changes have taken place in both domestic and international situations, with technological advancements progressing rapidly. As a result, the field of confidentiality faces new challenges. In order to better adapt to these new circumstances, it is necessary to improve the confidentiality laws, an official in charge at the National Administration of State Secrets Protection said on Wednesday as he introduced the 2024 revision, Xinhua News Agency reported.

The law has codified effective measures and practical experience gained through the work of guarding state secrets since the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) held in 2012. It carries significant and profound implications for the promotion of the high-quality development of the work done in guarding state secrets and safeguarding national sovereignty, security and development interests, the official with the administration noted on Wednesday, per Xinhua.

Addressing new challenges

The newly revised law has significantly increased technology-related content, adding in several provisions that demonstrate a focus on protecting confidential technology innovation and technology security. 

The official with the administration said that as the new round of technological revolution accelerates, emerging technologies such as big data, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, among others have presented increasing demands for self-development and self-improvement. In response, China needs to place high importance on confidential technology innovation and protection.

Qin An, director of the Internet Policy and Law Research Center under the Law School in Tianjin University, says the introduction of the revised secrecy law aligns particularly well with the characteristics of this new era marked by unprecedented changes in a century.

"For one thing, the environment we are currently in is completely different from before, as it is a new era of cyberspace. The connection between our personal actions and national security and interests is becoming increasingly stronger," Qin told the Global Times on Wednesday. "This implies that every citizen should have a heightened awareness of confidentiality." 

The challenges posed by adversaries are another aspect of concern that prompted the passage of the new revision. For instance, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) recently said in an article that it has committed substantially more resources toward China-related intelligence collection, operations and analysis around the world, more than doubling the percentage of its overall budget focused on China over just the last two years. The CIA is hiring and training more Putonghua (standard Chinese) speakers, expanding the confrontation against China to every corner of the agency.

Qin further noted that in the process of modernizing the state governance system and capacity, legislation has played a crucial role in safeguarding national security, sovereignty, and development interests, demonstrating China's proactive response to the changing dynamics of the times.

Li Wei, an expert on national security with the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, told the Global Times on Wednesday that over the past 14 years, methods used in stealing secrets have become more diverse with the advancement of modern technology, so the old version (of the law) has deficiencies and shortcomings. Therefore, in response to the development of new situations and the threats resulting from measures taken by foreign forces, it is important to amend the secrecy law in a targeted manner to better enhance the protection of our country. 

The law has added provisions clearly stating the country's encouragement and support for confidential scientific and technological research and application, while emphasizing the enhancement of independent innovation capabilities. It also shed light on legal protection of intellectual property rights in the field.

Regarding the improvement of measures for confidential technology protection, the revised law stipulates that the entire process of planning, construction, operation, and maintenance of confidential information systems must comply with national confidentiality regulations and standards, and be equipped with confidential facilities. It also specifies the requirement for regular risk assessments of confidential information systems to prevent "running with disease."

In response to the growing challenges that have emerged with the digitization of information, the amendment has further improved the network information security management system.

First, it clarifies that all processes of network information production, duplication, publication, and dissemination must comply with national secrecy regulations. Second, it stipulates that network operators should cooperate with relevant departments in investigating and handling cases suspected of leaking state secrets.

The latest revision of the secrecy law has also highlighted the Party's leadership over secrecy work from a legal perspective, by prominently incorporating it into the legal framework, to improve the leadership system and perfect the working mechanism. This will better leveraging the political and organizational advantages of Party-led secrecy works.

Foreign media outlets have been fast rolling out articles smearing China's newly revised law. A Wall Street Journal report said on Wednesday that the revision has encompassed sensitive information that did not previously fall under its scope, which in turn "potentially add to foreign businesses' concerns over the risks of operating in the country," and "add a potentially broad new category of restricted information," it said.

The report cited one specific provision about the establishment of "work secrets" at government and Party bodies, referring to information that are not considered state secrets but could cause certain adverse effects if leaked. 

"It's a simple question - only a mouse would worry about getting caught in a mousetrap and only a thief would fear triggering an alarm system. If you are neither, then you have nothing to worry about. Our laws are aimed at those with malicious intent, not law-abiding individuals or organizations. As long as you act properly, you won't trigger these restrictions," said Qin, refuting the tarnishing hypes by foreign media. 

Experts have also said it is crucial to integrate the legal provisions into the national security awareness education of the general public.