BEIJING - Telecom operators and Internet service providers must cooperate with public security and State security authorities on investigations of possible State secret leaks, according to a draft law. The law in effect furhter engages businesses in stabilizing national security, experts said.
The latest amendment to the 20-year-old Law on Guarding State Secrets was submitted to the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee, the top legislature, for a third review on Monday.
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.
Other changes in the latest version include a clear definition and classification of a State secret, which before was described vaguely and sometimes used by government agencies as justification for not disclosing information, such as budgets.
The changes have been made according to suggestions from NPC Standing Committee members, Sun Anmin, vice-chairman of the NPC Law Committee, said on Monday.
Some members and relevant departments have said that when public security and State security departments investigate State secret leaking cases, they need cooperation and support from operators of Internet portals and other public information networks, he said.
"They suggest such a rule be clearly written into law," Sun said.
"If there's no major difference of opinion, we suggest the draft amendment be passed at this legislative session," he said.
According to the draft, a State secret is defined as information concerning national security and interests that, if released, would harm the country's security and interests.
If the draft law is approved, both domestic operators and international operators on Chinese territory must comply with it, law experts said.
Experts said the changes come as new requirements on solving cases concerning State secrets have emerged in new contexts.
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.
"We now have more media carrying information, rather than just the paper documents of the past. Without cooperation from network carriers and service providers, authorities alone could not collect evidence or sort out the cases," said Ma Huaide, a law professor of China University of Political Science and Law.
He also stressed that although operators are obliged to cooperate with investigations, "they cannot intercept or misuse information not in question".
Some insiders of telecom and Internet service providers on Monday expressed their concerns about possible abuses of power, while admitting the cooperation would be effective in tackling crime and fraud.
Wang Yuquan, a senior consultant from research firm Frost & Sullivan, believes that in the past telecom operators had not been given a clear legal obligation and therefore did not act as they should have. They have indirectly assisted the growth of crime, he said.
However, independent telecom expert Xiang Ligang said: "Operators should serve no more than providing an information-sharing platform or a channel. Identifying what is a State secret is complicated in practice. Parties other than police who mishandle information would easily breach users' privacy."
Chen Meixiang, a spokesperson for China Unicom, told China Daily that a strict application and approval procedure is currently followed if any government agency needs their cooperation.
Law experts also said the draft is effective in reducing the scope of State secrets, defining expiration dates for confidentiality of files and holding a person liable for any secret release.
"Items that laws or administrative ordinances stipulated to be open to the public, should be made open," according to a newly added stipulation in the latest amendment.
"It draws a clear line distinguishing what is a confidential secret and what is not," said Ma, adding government transparency will be promoted accordingly.