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China’s Legislature Approves Cybersecurity Law to Tighten Control on Internet Use

Chinese leaders promote internet use for business and education but try to block access to material deemed subversive or obscene

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A woman uses her smartphone near a booth promoting cloud services during the Global Mobile Internet Conference in Beijing, China. VOA
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Beijing, November 8, 2016: China’s legislature approved a cybersecurity law on Monday that human rights activists warn will tighten political controls and foreign companies say might hamper access to Chinese technology markets.

Chinese authorities say the law is required to prevent crime and terrorism. It also prohibits activity aimed at “overthrowing the socialist system,” a reference to challenges to the ruling Communist Party’s monopoly on power.

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Chinese leaders promote internet use for business and education but try to block access to material deemed subversive or obscene. The country has the biggest population of Internet users at 710 million, according to government data.

The latest measure approved by the National People’s Congress requires companies to enforce censorship and aid in investigations and imposes standards for security technology. It tightens controls on where Chinese citizens’ data can be stored.

Human rights groups complain it will extend controls on a society in which media are controlled by the ruling party and the internet has provided a rare forum for individuals to express themselves to a large audience.

“The new cyber-security law tightens the authorities’ repressive grip on the internet,” said Patrick Poon, a China researcher for Amnesty International, in a statement. “It goes further than ever before in codifying abusive practices, with a near total disregard for the rights to freedom of expression and privacy.”

Passage of the law comes amid a crackdown on dissent under Communist Party leader Xi Jinping in which hundreds of human rights activists and legal professionals have been detained or questioned.

A coalition of business groups warned in August the latest proposed measures might limit access to China’s market for security technology in violation of Beijing’s World Trade Organization commitments. Business groups have complained Beijing increasingly is using regulation to try to squeeze foreign competitors out of promising industries.

“We believe this is a step backwards for innovation in China that won’t do much to improve security,” said James Zimmerman, chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China, in a statement. He said it will “create barriers to trade and innovation.”

The law’s requirements for national security reviews and data sharing will “unnecessarily weaken security and potentially expose personal information,” said Zimmerman. He said some measures “seem to emphasize protectionism rather than security.”

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Chinese authorities cite the need to protect banks and other industries. But officials of Chinese industry groups quoted in the state press have said previous restrictions on use of foreign security technology also were intended to shield the country’s fledgling providers from competition.

Computer hacking is a chronic source of tension between Beijing and Washington. Foreign security researchers point to China as a major source of hacking attacks aimed at stealing trade secrets. In 2014, American prosecutors charged five Chinese military officers with hacking and economic espionage against six U.S. companies.

Chinese authorities deny they encourage hacking and say their country is a victim of cyberattacks.

On Monday, a Chinese official defended the law and rejected suggestions it was meant to keep out foreign vendors.

“Any company that wants to come in, as long as they obey Chinese laws, serve the interests Chinese consumers, we welcome them to come in, and to prosper together,” said Zhao Zeliang, director-general of the cybersecurity bureau of the Cyberspace Administration of China, at a news conference.

Business groups say a provision requiring security technology to be “secure and controllable” might require providers to tell Chinese authorities how their products work, raising the risk trade secrets might be leaked.

The coalition in August said the proposed measures did nothing to improve security and might weaken data protection.

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Zhao tried to quell concern about the “secure and controllable” passage, saying criticism of it was based on “a misunderstanding, a bias.”

“Our requirements have been consistent: Vendors must not use their position as service providers to get user information or data,” he said. “Vendors cannot use their positions to illegally control and damage systems. Vendors must not harm fair competition or consumers.” (VOA)

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Can Flourishing Islamic State (ISIS) be Stopped in Afghanistan?

The truth about IS and Afghanistan is definitely no picnic

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Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016.
Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016. The rise of IS in Afghanistan has become such a priority that U.S. and Afghan forces sometimes support the Taliban while battling IS, VOA
  • Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups
  • Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops
  • In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS

June 25, 2017: The Islamic State group is rapidly expanding in parts of Afghanistan, advancing militarily into areas where it once had a weak presence and strengthening its forces in core regions, according to Afghan and U.S. officials.

Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups.

Attacking IS has become such a priority in the country, that disparate forces sometimes join together in the ad-hoc fight, with Afghan and U.S. forces finding themselves inadvertently supporting the enemy Taliban in battling IS.

Confusion leads to mistakes

All too often, officials say, mistakes are made due to confusion on the ground.

Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops, provincial police chief, Rahmatullah Turkistani told VOA. The supplies were meant to help Afghan forces that are countering twin attacks by IS and Taliban militants but were used instead by IS.

“It’s not getting better in Afghanistan in terms of IS,” U.S. Chief Pentagon Spokeswoman Dana White told VOA this week. “We have a problem, and we have to defeat them and we have to be focused on that problem.”

Reinforcements for the IS cause reportedly are streaming into isolated areas of the country from far and wide. There are reports of fighters from varied nationalities joining the ranks, including militants from Pakistan, India, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia and Central Asian neighbors.

Confusing scenarios

Still, the Islamic State-Khorasan (ISK) as IS is known in Afghanistan remains a fragmented group composed of differing regional forces with different agendas in different parts of the country.

“IS-K is still conducting low-level recruiting and distribution of propaganda in various provinces across Afghanistan, but it does not have the ability or authority to conduct multiple operations across the country,” a recent Pentagon report said. But where it operates, IS is inflicting chaos and casualties and causing confusing scenarios for disparate opponents.

In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS. IS regained ground after a few days, leading to U.S. military air attacks on IS positions in conjunction with Afghan intelligence instructions and army operations.

IS fighters reportedly have fled from mountain caves of Tora Bora, where al-Qaida’s leader Osama bin Laden hid from U.S. attack in 2001.

Families displaced

IS fighters were also reportedly advancing in neighboring Khogyani district, displacing hundreds of families, according to district officials. It is one of several areas in Nangarhar province, near the Pakistani border, where IS has been active for over two years.

Fierce clashes in the Chaparhar district of Nangarhar last month left 21 Taliban fighters and seven IS militants dead, according to a provincial spokesman. At least three civilians who were caught in the crossfire were killed and five others wounded.

“IS has overpowered Taliban in some parts of Nangarhar because the Taliban dispatched its elite commando force called Sara Qeta (Red Brigade) to other parts of the country, including some northern provinces to contain the growing influence of IS there,” Wahid Muzhda, a Taliban expert in Kabul, told VOA.

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Recruiting unemployed youths

IS has also expanded in neighboring Kunar province, where, according to provincial police chief, it has a presence in at least eight districts and runs a training base, where foreign members of IS, train new recruits.

Hundreds of miles from Nangarhar, IS is attempting to establish a persistent presence in several northern provinces where it has found a fertile ground for attracting militants and recruiting unemployed youths, mostly between the age of 13 and 20.

IS has been able to draw its members from the Pakistani Taliban fighters, former Afghan Taliban, and other militants who “believe that associating with or pledging allegiance” to IS will further their interests, according to the Pentagon report.

Hundreds of militants have joined IS ranks in northern Jouzjan and Sar-e-Pul province where local militant commanders lead IS-affiliate groups in several districts.

Darzab district

Qari Hekmat, an ethnic Uzbek and former Taliban militant who joined IS a year ago, claims to have up to 500 members, including around 50 Uzbek nationals who are affiliated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) — previously associated with al-Qaida and Taliban in Afghanistan.

IS and Taliban are reportedly fighting over the control of Darzab district in Jouzjan which they stormed this week from two different directions and besieged scores of government forces. The Taliban has reportedly captured the center of the district while IS militants control the city outskirts.

Afghanistan faces a continuing threat from as many as 20 insurgent and terrorist networks present or operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, including IS, the Pentagon said.

“In areas where the government has limited influence and control, IS attempts to emerge and expand there,” Ateequllah Amarkhail, an analysts and former Army general in Kabul told VOA.

Hit-and-hide strategy

IS has also claimed responsibility for several recent attacks in urban areas, however, with a hit-and-hide strategy that is proving effective. And it is engaging too in more skirmishes with U.S. forces that initially were sent to the country to help Afghan forces halt the spread of Taliban.

Three American service members based in eastern Afghanistan were killed in April during operations targeting IS militants, according to the Pentagon.

“ISIS-K remains a threat to Afghan and regional security, a threat to U.S. and coalition forces, and it retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks in urban centers,” the Pentagon said. (VOA)