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China proposes making “dissemination of false information” a crime in UN treaty

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A new international convention on cybercrime is being negotiated at the United Nations (UN) meeting in Vienna, Austria, and China has proposed the criminalization of the “dissemination of false information.”

The proposal seems like an attempt by China to legitimize its internet controls and is likely going to be contested by Western countries, even though many of them have been copying parts of China’s playbook in recent times.

There is already an existing international convention on cybercrime that was signed in 2001. However, it was not a UN treaty and it has not been signed by Russia, China, Brazil, and India, which are some of the largest countries in the world.

In the ongoing negotiations on the new treaty, the proposals that have been suggested have been put into two categories; those with wide support and those that are contested. Proposals on controlling online content have generally fallen into the contested category and have not been part of immediate discussions.

However, a negotiation document that was published on Monday included a proposal by China about online content controls. The proposal would force signatories of the treaty to introduce laws that would make it a crime to spread false information “that could result in serious social disorder.”

“Each State Party shall adopt such legislative and other measures as may be necessary to establish as criminal offenses, when committed intentionally and unlawfully, the publishing, distributing, transmitting, or otherwise making available of false information that could result in serious social disorder, including but not limited to information related to natural and human-caused disasters, by means of [a computer system] [an information and communications technology system/device],” the proposal states.

Earlier, Russia had proposed the criminalization of “the distribution of materials that call for illegal acts motivated by political, ideological, social, racial, ethnic or religious hatred.” The proposal did not get to the next round of negotiations.

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