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Hacking and Cyber Power: The Internet in China

Rough Draft: Hacking and Cyber Power: The Internet in China


With the rise in foreign election interference via the internet in recent years many have their eyes focused on Russia. However, China is a growing threat and increasing their mysteriousness in regards to their national internet. China and the internet have been in the news a lot lately; from their censorship to American companies attempting to bring their companies to China there is a lot to contemplate. China is increasing their online presence, and it is not a good presence.

Chinese Law Regarding the Internet

China has strict laws regarding the internet. They have extreme censorship on what can be searched, located, and spoken about. In addition, state agencies are subject to random searches from the Chinese state. These searches collect the data that companies receive via the traffic on their websites. All data is subject to inspection by the Chinese state, which can put sensitive information at risk.

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China has strict censorship laws. If one posts something that is forbidden they can face jail time. Censorship ranges from views on history, actual historical occurrences, opinions, photos, drawings, religion, and the Chinese government to name a few. The Chinese government is very serious and the citizens of China do not have the luxury of a right to the freedom of speech, among other rights.

U.S. Internet Laws

The United States government is allowed to access digital communications thanks to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986. This means that e-mail, social media, and information stored on clouds can all be accessed by the government if they have a subpoena. If that information is over 180 days old, no warrant is needed to access the information. This also applies to digital communication that has been deleted, because once something is online, even if deleted, it is never really gone.

The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) states it is illegal to access and share protected information online, which can be directly correlated to hackers. There is also the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). This law protects the information gathered from children on websites. It also determines if a website is geared towards children. COPPA was designed to protect children under the age of 13.

The United States tries to prevent hackers, generally speaking, but broadly speaking they do try to prevent international hackers from obtaining information from American’s, American companies, and the American government. There are organizations that are attempting to build a digital wall to protect American’s from Chinese interference. A digital wall is needed for many reasons.

International Internet Laws

As of right now there are no overriding global internet laws. There are agreements between nations regarding the internet, but from a global perspective the internet is viewed much like the Wild West. There are some who are calling for the global internet to have rules much like the law of the sea (Whaley, 2016). This would mean that each nation would have some rights in regards to the internet but would establish law that would be applicable when other nations are engaging with one another. This is not something that is totally unprecedented as there are similar laws with regards to Antarctica and Space.

Privacy is subjective. Not every citizen in the world lives in a nation that respects the privacy of their citizens. For example, citizens in England would have more rights to their privacy than in places like China, Iran, or Saudi Arabia. Because privacy is subjective to the nation that is allowing or disallowing said privacy, international law would be harder to enforce unless those nations agreed to a treaty with an organization like the United Nations should they define the internet as a human right.

Cybercrime is something that is increasing as access to the internet increases. From an international standpoint, one could view cybercrime as cyber pirates. The same laws that are applicable to actual pirates could apply in this scenario as well. For example, if a cybercrime is committed where someone steals money from another person, their geographical location should not matter. However, because there are no international internet laws the nation in which the thief or thieves reside take precedence over their potential arrests and punishments.

The freedom of speech is a fundamental human right. However, it is not a right that all humans enjoy equally. One can post something on the internet in the United States or Europe, that criticizes the government and that right is protected. However, citizens in China, Saudi Arabia, and Iran do not enjoy that same right. They are not allowed to post whatever they want onto the internet because their online actions are monitored. Should they say something online that their government(s) deems to be offensive they can face arrest, time in jail, acts of physical punishment, and even death.

The internet is a place where creators can come together to share their creations, become inspired, and sell their goods. No matter what the creator is creating, it is theirs and therefore protected as their intellectual property. The lack of international law regarding the internet has allowed people to steal intellectual property and then profit from that theft. For example, it is not uncommon for one to utilize a website such as Wish, and find stolen designs for various items being sold as original. The creators that had their intellectual property stolen have little recourse to address this, many times all they are able to do is to contact the website where they find their stolen ideas and designs being used and ask the website to remove the items. It does not always work to their benefit. When one design is removed ten more can pop up in its place.

Chinese Internet Laws and the U.N.’s Human Rights

Due to China’s strict laws regarding how their citizens utilize the internet, many people and companies have begun to boycott China and Chinese made goods. In addition, many large companies are refusing to do business in China, especially in regards to building company headquarters in China. This is costing lost revenue for China and the Chinese people. In addition, those outside China are missing out on the financial gain of selling to people in China or having Chinese citizens use their online product, and due to the Chinese population this is a massive financial loss.

The United Nations have the freedom of speech, among others like the freedom of religion, which the Chinese government is violating on a daily basis. The Chinese government is known for harshly punishing those who violate their laws regarding this, especially on the internet. One is safe to say or believe in something within the privacy of their homes, because the Chinese state cannot enforce their laws where they don’t know the laws are being broken. However, the internet provides a false sense of security for the Chinese citizens because they have a false sense of anonymity but the State can trace their digital footprints and find them, especially when their laws are broken.

Cyber Security Issues between China and the U.S.

Cyber espionage is an increasing threat and worry for all aspects internet users. Corporations fear that their information will be hacked, that information relating to their business and/or their customers will be stolen for the financial benefit of the thieves. Private espionage encompasses when regular people are hacked, their personal data stolen, and even the potential to have their identities stolen. Governmental espionage is the fear that one nation’s government will engage in hacking against another nation’s government with the sole purpose of stealing classified materials. All are valid concerns as the internet grows in China and more Chinese people have access to the internet.

U.S. companies such as Apple, Google, and Amazon have tested the waters, so to speak, in China before. They had to juggle the desire to financially gain from the sheer population of China and the risk that the Chinese State would have access to all information stored in their headquarters once built in China. This would open up data collections for customers worldwide to the Chinese government. The decisions not to move into the Chinese market had to be weighed against the potential issues that could arise, which would include outrage, with the rest of their customers who would fear their information being taken and stored by the Chinese government.

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“China has spent nearly two decades building a digital wall between itself and the rest of the world, a one-way barrier designed to keep out foreign companies like Facebook and Google while allowing Chinese rivals to leave home and expand across the world” (Yuan, 2019). China has decided that if American companies will not abide by their laws that they will exclude them from being able to operate within their nation. However, they allow their own native companies to expand outward, internationally, because they know those companies will be continue to operate under Chinese law.

Reaction of American Companies to Chinese Internet Laws and Activists

Private citizens in the United States have threatened to boycott any internet brands that move into China. Boycotting brands or threatening boycotts made certain companies rethink their decisions to put headquarters in China. Protestors are not boycotting for the same reasons that the United States government is concerned. Protestors are boycotting because the Chinese citizens are not allowed the same freedoms that they are, the boycotts are protesting the Chinese governments’ treatment of its people.

Lawmakers are concerned over the sharing of the data that will have to occur should an American company put headquarters in China. User data can be the data of private individuals, companies, and even the government. This data sharing is why American lawmakers do not want American companies in China, not until China makes the necessary changes to their internet laws.

Cyber Security Issues between China and the World

Espionage fears are not solely American. Other nations are also concerned that the Chinese government will take advantage of their internet laws and utilize them against companies and governments. It is because of this that nations all over the world are also shoring up their internets in order to protect them as best they can from potential threats from nations like China. Nations that are at risk are nations that are allies with the United States, specifically, because the United States is not an ally with China but rather they have a business relationship.

Hacking concerns remain identical to the United States. The fear of Chinese hackers taking information for their own profit or for the profit of their government is one that is founded because it has happened before. Citizens all over the globe are at risk to have their personal computers hacked. Companies are hacked and then access to their own information and systems are ransomed back to them. One does not need to be in a specific nation to participate in this crime, thanks to the internet.

Chinese citizens are targeted by other Chinese citizens when online for various reasons. They have taken cyber bullying to a terrifying level. If one does not appear patriotic enough or too rich they disperse information like home addresses so that people can show up to your home or write you threatening letters. No one is safe. A Chinese student studying on the United States gave a graduation speech that mentioned China and the Chinese people threatened her and her family (Jiajia-Li, 2019).

China’s Reaction to Accusations of Law Breaking

China has reacted to the United States in a manner of denial. They do not admit to breaking laws, and their position is that they are free to implement and enforce their own laws free from outside interference. They often state that their internet laws are in place to protect their people and their culture. China does not want to make waves with any nation, but specifically the United States because once waves are made the interference begins. China does not want the United States to interfere with how their nation is run. “President Xi [stated] at the 2015 World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, cyber sovereignty means “respecting each country’s right to choose its own Internet development path, its own Internet management model, [and] its own public policies on the Internet” (Segal, Chinese Cyber Diplomacy in a New Era of Uncertainty, 2017).

The Chinese government has reacted to companies like Google, who pulled out of the nation with indifference. Their official position has been that they have their own version of Google that they would prefer to utilize. The Chinese government and Chinese companies do not want to openly admit to dependence on any foreign company because they feel it makes them appear weak. China does not want to appear dependent or weak but rather strong and independent.

One does not really know how the Chinese citizens are reacting because they have no freedom of speech. They cannot speak against the position of their government. Some Chinese citizens have been getting very creative with how they express their opinions, using the internet, and creating memes. Sadly, the world won’t know how they really feel because when they speak out it is in support of their government. They have to support their governments’ decisions and positions on certain matters because to do otherwise is inviting harm against themselves.

Governments outside of the United States are reacting much like the American government. They work to protect their own interests from getting into the hands of the Chinese government. The nations who are allies with China, like Russia and Iran, have no opinion on the matters, at least publically, because China is their ally and they will not speak ill of an ally. Much like with other matters though, China’s allies will protect their own interests first.

International law makers have called on China to stop the human rights violations that they continue to engage in. Mostly there is a great focus on the freedom of speech and the freedom of religion. However, China views religious belief as fundamentally opposed to their government, because China is a communist nation. Communist nations do not allow religion, the State becomes the religion. While international law makers may continue to push for China to give their citizens more rights, China will not allow it. To allow freedom of speech and freedom of religion risks the power of the government. The internet could quite literally bring down the Chinese State if not hyper controlled.

China has outwardly spoken of their desire to have the United Nations step in and regulate the internet (Segal, Year in Review: Chinese Cyber Sovereignty in Action , 2018). They may state this in public, but they have not acted in a manner that would show one that they are in alliance with the operations of the United Nations. For example, if they removed internet censorship and opened up the freedom of speech, the international community would be more inclined to believe them when they say they would be willing to allow the United Nations to create laws regarding how their citizens interact with and on the internet. “While economic progress and foreign investment to China drives its global dominance, political and social stability within the country is its number one priority” (Balke, 2018).


Chinese laws are very strict in regards to protecting the Chinese State but extremely lax when it comes to protecting others from their citizens. Chinese companies utilize the internet to steal intellectual property in order to cheaply reproduce items in order to resell to people outside of China. The international community is trying to sure up their digital protections against China in order to prevent them from being able to engage in hacking or espionage. However, there are no international internet laws for China to agree to, not that they would agree to them.

The internet is used to control the Chinese people by the Chinese State. They have to endure censorship and having their data given to the State for analyzation and storage. They do not have the luxury to participate in freedom of speech. They are also provided with heavily censored versions of movies, television shows, and books, if they are not Chinese made. Without the heavy handed interference of the Chinese State, the Chinese people would utilize the internet to gain and spread information and understanding and the Chinese government would not hold the power they are known for, because ordinary citizens would no longer fear them.


  • Balke, L. (2018). China’s New Cybersecurity Law and U.S.-China Cybersecurity Issues. Santa Clara Law Review, 58(1), Article 4.
  • Jiajia-Li, A. (2019, May 14). Who’s Afraid of China’s Internet Vigilantes? Retrieved from The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/14/opinion/china-privacy.html?rref=collection/timestopic/Internet%20Censorship%20in%20China
  • Segal, A. (2017). Chinese Cyber Diplomacy in a New Era of Uncertainty. Retrieved from Stanford University: Hoover Institution: https://www.hoover.org/sites/default/files/research/docs/segal_chinese_cyber_diplomacy.pdf
  • Segal, A. (2018, January 8). Year in Review: Chinese Cyber Sovereignty in Action . Retrieved from Council on Foreign Relations: https://www.cfr.org/blog/year-review-chinese-cyber-sovereignty-action
  • Whaley, H. (2016, June 22). Research Guide: International Law. Retrieved from Columbia University: Arthur W. Diamond Law Library: http://library.law.columbia.edu/guides/International_Internet_Law
  • Yuan, L. (2019, May 20). As Huawei Loses Google, the U.S.-China Tech Cold War Gets Its Iron Curtain. Retrieved from The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/20/business/huawei-trump-china-trade.html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FInternet%20Censorship%20in%20China&action=click&contentCollection=world&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=2&pgtype=coll


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