New Regulations Appear To Authorize Chinese Law Enforcement To Hack Into Computers Anywhere In The World

from the everyone's-doing-it dept

A recurrent theme here on Techdirt has been the way in which the West has ceded the moral high ground in so many areas involving the tech world. For example, in 2010, we noted that the US had really lost the right to point fingers over Internet censorship. The moral high ground on surveillance went in 2013 for people, and in 2014 for economic espionage. Meanwhile, the UK has been shown to be as bad as the most disreputable police states in its long-running blanket surveillance of all its citizens.

The UK’s most recent move to cast off any pretense that it is morally superior to other “lesser” nations is the Investigatory Powers Act, which formalizes all the powers its intelligence services have been secretly using for years. One of the most intrusive of those is the power to carry out what is quaintly termed “equipment interference” — hacking — anywhere in the world. That means it certainly won’t be able to criticize some new rules in China, spotted by the Lawfare blog:

The regulations seem to authorize the unilateral extraction of data concerning anyone (or any company) being investigated under Chinese criminal law from servers and hard drives located outside of China.

Article 9 of the 2016 regulations provides that the police or prosecutors may extract digital data from original storage media (e.g., servers, hard drives) that are located outside of mainland China (i.e., including servers in Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan) “through the Internet” and may perform “remote network inspections” of such computer information systems. Remote network inspections are helpfully defined, in Article 29, as “investigation, discovery, and collection of electronic data from remote computer information systems related to crime through the Internet.” The only caveat to this grant of authority is a requirement that investigations be subject to “strict standards.” No guidance is provided as to what “strict” means.

On its face, the regulation indicates that Chinese officials have authorization to remotely search or extract data anywhere in the world, subject only to the limitations of [China’s] domestic law.

If the idea of Chinese government agents hacking into your computer doesn’t appeal, well, tough luck: the West is doing it too, so there’s really nothing governments there can say that isn’t deeply hypocritical. That won’t stop them, of course, and it may lead to some nasty international name-calling that could escalate dangerously.

The fact that pretty much all the main players are hacking everyone else like crazy is yet another argument for not weakening encryption anywhere. However much certain politicians might want magic crypto systems that only let in the good guys and always keep out the bad guys — perhaps by invoking the necessary hashtags — they simply don’t exist. Morever, the supposedly clear-cut distinction between good guys and bad guys has been blurred so completely by decades of the West losing the moral high ground here that it’s not a very useful way of framing things anyway.

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Comments on “New Regulations Appear To Authorize Chinese Law Enforcement To Hack Into Computers Anywhere In The World”

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discordian_eris says:

Moral High Ground

I think that you are making a mistake in assuming the the US, or the West in general, have ever really held the high ground.

The Treaty of Tordesillas and Treaty of Zaragoza divided the world for the peoples of the West to pillage. Let’s face it, to China, and most of Asia, the UK, the West, and the US have generally been regarded as the bad guys for literally 500 years.

While the Chinese are certainly no angels (they can be and have been absolute bastards) the West has never really been “morally superior” to them. Just technologically superior.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Moral High Ground

—While the Chinese are certainly no angels (they can be and have been absolute bastards) the West has never really been “morally superior” to them. Just technologically superior.—

That is lie and as specious as it gets. This is why people lack perspective on world issues. There clear differences between multiple nations. Just because America has a bad record by many standards you reveal yourself to be intellectual bankrupt to equate the nations in this way.

There most definitely has been times when the West was morally superior to many nations, not JUST technologically superior.

discordian_eris says:

Re: Re: Moral High Ground

Relative morality is always difficult to judge between nations. Yet the very foundations of Western society are morally bankrupt. As long as they are built on the back of Old Testament moralism they always will be. I think that any society which builds itself on the explicit ideal that they are fully human, and that non-Westerners (ie non-Christians) are by definition sub-human is built on a lie. And has no real claim to legitimacy, nor can it.
Note, I am not comparing the West to the East or anywhere else. Why they act as they do is irrelevant. All that matters is how we act. If a child points out that your actions are unethical, does that make the observation less ethically relevant, or true? Any moral system that starts with the basic premise that it’s adherents are the ‘chosen ones’ is more than problematical; it is repugnant.

Evil done in the name of Good, is still Evil. Good in the name of Evil is still Good. Just because the US is occasionally doing good, doesn’t make it good. It’s not Neutral or Chaotic Good, it fluctuates between Neutral and Lawful Evil. Look at the actions (and their results), not the jingoistic so-called moral reason for those actions.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Moral High Ground

You are absolutely bankrupt. Get out of your own head space… DnD game rules have absolutely no place in discussions about reality on good and evil.

Yes the founding of the US was influenced extensively by Christians and the Bible, but that was not all. Additionally, many founders were against things like slavery, and if you bother to read the Declaration of Independence then you might be able to see a hint of what was going on.

The foundation principles behind America are originally 2, E. pluribus unum & Liberty! Under God we trust was added much later making for a 3rd, but still ultimately foundational because of the “endowed by Creator”.

So you need a serious check on history because you have a few things very wrong.

discordian_eris (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Moral High Ground

The history of the US is replete with incidences that by the the countries professed morals can only be considered evil in nature. Today that evil is most embodied in the right wing of the Republican Party. Certainly not exclusively, Democrats certainly have to share some of the blame. The Randians however, evil to the core.

And no, I’m not bankrupt, just someone who has never been Christian. (And no, not an atheist either.)

And while yes, the Enlightenment did inform the Founders, it primarily informed their writings. Unfortunately many of their actions did not comport with their ideals. The three-fifths compromise was proof enough that many did not have the fortitude to back their ideals with actions. And it is their actions they should be judged on, not their professed ideals. The Founders idea of ‘Liberty’ only applied to landed white men, no one else. I judge them on what they did (and still do) not on what they said.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Moral High Ground

You are bankrupt, you just ignore it.

Both parties create the illusion that they are not one and the same. Both serve rich political interests, neither are interested in helping the poor they just say they are. Politicians don’t even hide their corruption very much because many like you are no longer able to recognize it for what it is because you were born into a society that views corruption as common place and your mind has been trained to tune it out when you see it.

You also lack fundamental knowledge of American History. When the Constitution was formed it only applied to the Central Government. They could not have possibly gotten the colonies to agree to having those limits places on them as well. The slavery problem existed at the state level and could not be touched. The founders understood that the way the constitution was written would help set the tone for the freedom of the slaves slowly over time so they took what they could get at the time, So you are still getting schooled by a group of people from over 200 years ago that did not have the benefit of information you currently have.

The compromises at the time were just simply necessary, it is amazing you have the audacity to make stupendous claims about their fortitude and failure while I don’t see you creating any new nations built on freedom and liberty! You have the benefit of 20/20, they did not, but they still prove to be your Intellectual Superiors in many ways!

discordian_eris (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Moral High Ground

If the colonies refused to give up slavery, then they should not have allowed in, it really is that simple. Hindsight does not play in to it at all. Simple ethics and humanity does.

“The founders understood that the way the constitution was written would help set the tone for the freedom of the slaves slowly over time so they took what they could get at the time”

All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. Kicking it down to your ancestors to fix your fuckups is quintessentially American, I will give you that.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Moral High Ground

“If the colonies refused to give up slavery, then they should not have allowed in, it really is that simple. Hindsight does not play in to it at all. Simple ethics and humanity does.”

Say what? The colonies were here first. And the colonies where the ones forming the Government, NOT a Government taking control of the Colonies. I am not sure you understand how this works. Where did you get your education? A Crackerjack box?

“All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

Wow, FINALLY something we can agree on.

“Kicking it down to your ancestors to fix your fuckups is quintessentially American, I will give you that.”

You have already made it clear that you are very ignorant of American History. It must be easy to sit there with your ignorance and trash talk a group of people that lived in those times like you could have done better. In all reality, there is a likely hood that you would have been one of the racists because you rattle off ideals like you know what they are. You don’t, you just have the ability to parrot ideas and maxims.

If American Christians were so racist then why would they slowly work to set the slaves free? Black slaves did not set themselves free did they? Do you know of any black people elected to Congress at the time? White people, including elected politicians had to stand up and say… hey, this is bullshit and our Constitution agrees that this is bullshit so lets start the process of putting these injustices to rest.

The constitution did not apply to the states in the beginning. It only prevented the Federal Government from taking peoples or states rights away, it did nothing to stop the states from taking citizens rights away in the least.

Only a blithering fool thinks they could have turned a racist group of states/colonies into a slave free society like that. You need some mental help or something because that is insanity! What is wrong with you?

You don’t understand a thing, and someone that understands nothing will only get in the way of real solutions because you are not capable of producing them!

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: Moral High Ground

At some point the Arabs were more advanced, the Chinese, the Egyptian, then Aztecs. It just happened that the West was in the vanguard in a time where technology advanced really fast. Obviously it’s the result of bright minds but it’s also some luck. We are seeing the rest of the world quickly catching up.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Moral High Ground

Yes, the Arabs were more advanced, they were even more accepting culturally as well. But they had a religious change of heart and started becoming more militant towards other cultures and religions.

Sure some luck will be involved, but that is usually ONLY when deciding which HARD WORKER gets the recognition. In most cases no fool or nation of fools will easily win and become prosperous due to luck alone. Work and effort is involved each an every time.

Tesla was not the first person working on electricity, he just got lucky with being largely recognized, while others did not. All of them were still hard working scientists learning about electricity in their own ways.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Moral High Ground

Yes, the Arabs were more advanced, they were even more accepting culturally as well. But they had a religious change of heart and started becoming more militant towards other cultures and religions.

The second sentence reminds me of some other nations, just can’t quite put my finger on it.

Anonymous Coward says:

i dont doubt this for a second! and who can blame them? the USA thinks it has the right to do exactly this, but not only thinks that no other nation should also have this right, it thinks it can call out any other nation if it says it wants to, can do and/or will do and expects every other nation to kick up fuck against those that do this, leaving out, of course, the USA!!

discordian_eris says:

Re: Re:

I think that most, if not all, countries dabble in this. It’s really doesn’t seem to be aimed at the other country, but to its domestic audience. Just trying to get people to think that the other countries leaders have no clothes, while our esteemed leader is garbed in the finest invisible raiment money can buy.

PapaFox (profile) says:

Rubbish - get a good translation

Sorry Glyn, you’ve got it wrong. I doubt you read Chinese or are versed in Chinese law, so you have fallen for Susan Hennessey and Christopher Mirasola’s panicked response to a very technical Chinese court document. Your article is typical of the poor reporting on China – few reporters speak Mandarin, fewer understand the political debates going on in China. They hear some gossip and promptly write and article that has serious errors.

A reasoned response "Sometimes a rule of evidence is just a rule of evidence" has been written by Jeremy Daum.

The new regulations don’t change or permit any new activities by Chinese law enforcement. Frankly, if a Chinese government whether it be at county, provincial or national level wants to hack you, then they are not going to be stopped by what is or is not admissible in a court of law.

What the new regulations do is specify how such evidence has to be handled. Specifically, if a litigant wishes to enter evidence obtained by hacking they have to identify it as having been obtained through hacking. So now hacking will be far more public than it was before and probably less likely to occur. at least if a trial is likely.

To understand what is going on, you need to understand the debate about the rule of law that is happening in China. In the west (be it the US, Britain, France, Germany etc), at least in principle, if the same case with the same evidence was heard by two different judges then approximately the same judgement should be rendered. Judges are constrained by the same legislation/civil code, the same precedents, the same interpretation rules. However in China this doesn’t happen because while there is a common civil code (forked from the German civil code circa 1930), the interpretation and precedents aren’t there. Chinese judges, like all judges, have the pick winners and losers. For these reasons (along with others) the general run of Chinese commercial justice is a bit of mess with with different outcomes depending on which court and which judge a case is heard before.

Senior judges and lawyers want to rectify this, but there is a problem. The "rule of law" is a highly political topic in China, with the CPC (Communist Party of China) holding that it’s evil and bad, while lawyers in general quietly approve of it. Because of the political nature of the debate, the legal system is moving in a somewhat crab-wise direction to towards implementing the infrastructure which will allow the rule of law. This regulation is part of that movement. Don’t misunderstand me – the Chinese legal system has a very long way to go before it approaches the rule of law, but this a good step in the right direction.

So, Glyn – you quoted a panicky analysis and haven’t checked the original material. Go read Jeremy Daums’ response (including the translation of the new regulation) and think again. What is actually happening is the opposite of what you are claiming.

SirWired (profile) says:

That bit about the loss of the "high ground" for economic espionage was incorrect

I read the linked article about the loss of “Moral High Ground” for economic espionage, and the linked article certainly made that statement but didn’t back it up.

Economic Espionage refers to the practice of a state actor spying on commercial enterprises in the target country and passing that information onto commercial enterprises in their own country for economic advantage.

However, the evidence presented merely showed that the US hacked into foreign companies; no evidence, at all, was presented stating that this information was passed onto US companies for commercial gain.

Anonymous Coward says:

I don’t think someone would cede the “moral high ground” for using a system to detect terrorists vs. cracking down on political dissent. Those are two different things. The same thing happens, but they are not the same.

A murderer is put to death by the government, is that the same as a government killing gay people?

I know in today’s environment, it has been fashionable for people to invoke Hitler and Nazi’s, seems like just about everyone is a Nazi today, and that really offends me.

By doing this, people are really minimizing what actually happened and how truly evil people were.

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