China quietly releases draft of tough new intelligence law

BEIJING (Reuters) - China on Tuesday quietly released the first public draft of an intelligence law giving authorities powers to monitor suspects, raid premises, and seize vehicles and devices while investigating domestic and foreign individuals and groups.

President Xi Jinping has overseen a raft of legislation to bolster national security against threats from both within and outside China.

The government gained new powers with a national security law passed in 2014, followed by a raft of measures on counter-terrorism, the management of foreign non-government bodies and cyber security, among other subjects.

On Tuesday, a top law-making body, the standing committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC), released a draft version of the National Intelligence Law on its website, inviting responses from the public until June 14.

“State intelligence work should...provide support to guard against and dispel state security threats (and) protect major national interests,” the document said, without giving a timeframe for passage of the law.

National interests listed in the document include state power, sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.

Intelligence work needs to be performed both within and outside China, and foreign groups and individuals who damage national security must be investigated, it added.

Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni (not pictured) during a bilateral meeting at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China May 16, 2017. Wu Hong/REUTERS/Pool

If passed, the law will give authorities new legal grounds to monitor and investigate foreign and domestic individuals and bodies, in order to protect national security, it said.

The draft showed authorities will also be able to propose customs and border inspections or “quarantines”, as well as “administrative detention” of up to 15 days for those who obstruct their work, or leak related state secrets.

China’s Ministry of State Security could not be reached for comment.

State media, and the parliament website’s own home page, made no mention of the draft, unlike two other pieces of legislation also made public on Tuesday.

China already has broad laws on state secrets and security but the new law will allow intelligence officials to enter “restricted access areas” and use “technological reconnaissance measures” when required, the document said.

It gave no details of what such areas or measures might be.

Vehicles, communication devices and even real estate, such as buildings, can be used or seized by authorities during intelligence gathering efforts, it said, adding that the owners should be compensated.

It also allows intelligence operatives to “set up relevant sites, equipment or facilities,” if necessary.

Western governments have spoken out against China’s security measures, as defining its national interests too broadly, and warning they could be used to target dissent.

China says the laws are appropriate for its national security concerns.

In March, NPC head Zhang Dejiang said the new law would be finalised this year.

Reporting by Christian Shepherd; Editing by Clarence Fernandez