China presents draft intelligence law for public discussion

China presents draft intelligence law for public discussion
The Chinese authorities have submitted the first draft of the new intelligence law for public consideration. The bill expands powers of the Chinese security services in countering threats to national security.

The text of the bill was published on the website of China's top legislative body, the National People’s Congress (NPC), by the legislature's standing committee on Tuesday. The authorities also encouraged Chinese citizens to give their opinions concerning the bill before June 14.

If passed, the new law would grant Chinese security services the legal grounds to monitor and investigate Chinese nationals and foreigners, as well as domestic and foreign organizations, suspected of posing a threat to national security.

The bill would particularly allow Chinese law enforcement services to raid suspects’ premises as well as seize their vehicles and electronic devices. It also says that those who hinder the activities of the state authorities or leak governmental secrets could be subjected to border checks and “quarantines,” and could be detained for up to 15 days at the time of investigation.

“The national intelligence [agencies].should stick to the principles of [ensuring] national security and provide informational support to major government decisions as well as [act] to mitigate risks and threats to the national security by protecting state authorities, [China’s] sovereignty, solidarity, independence, territorial integrity, people’s wellbeing, sustainable economic development and other important … national interests,” the document says, as cited by the RIA news agency.

The draft law would also allow the Chinese security services to gain access to “restricted areas” without giving any details about what exactly such areas could be. It goes on to say that the intelligence officials would be allowed to use "technological reconnaissance measures” if necessary.

Chinese citizens’ vehicles, communication devices and even real estate could be used by the authorities in their intelligence operations, the document says, adding that the owners would be compensated. It also says that security services could “set up relevant sites, equipment or facilities” to aid an investigation.

At the same time, the document specifically stresses that the security services officials should act in strict compliance with the laws regulating protection of human rights and should by no means exceed their authority or abuse their powers.

The draft legislation has already provoked a wave of criticism among western governments, which said that it could be used to crack down on dissent, as reported by Reuters. China maintains that the bill is necessary to address national security concerns.

The text of the document does not provide any information about when it is expected to be adopted. However, Zhang Dejiang, the head of the NPC, said in March that the bill would be finalized later in 2017.

The Chinese authorities already expanded the powers of security services with a national security law passed in 2014 that was followed by a number of legislative measures regulating counter-terrorism efforts, management of foreign NGOs and cybersecurity.

Foreign NGOs were particularly required to register with the police, rather than with civil authorities. China has been bolstering its domestic and foreign security since President Xi Jinping assumed office in 2013.

In April, it was reported that Chinese security services offer rewards ranging from 10,000 to 500,000 yuan (US$1,450 to $72,440) to citizens providing useful information on suspected foreign espionage activities.