Are China’s new privacy laws scuppering  access to ship positioning systems?
Dina Temple-Raston November 18, 2021

Are China’s new privacy laws scuppering access to ship positioning systems?

Are China’s new privacy laws scuppering access to ship positioning systems?

The International Maritime Organization and other shipping bodies need to know where large ships are sailing in order to prevent them from running into each other. So they use something called the automatic identification system, or AIS, which transmit the position of vessels so captains know where they are. 

Two new Chinese privacy laws, the Data Security Law (DSL) and the Personal Information Protection Law (PIPL), appear to be stifling international access to Chinese AIS data, according to a new Reuters report.

Multiple Western users of AIS data have reported that AIS signals off the coast of China have slowed to a trickle – and the decline isn’t because ships have turned off their AIS transceivers. 

Instead, it appears that Chinese AIS data providers are concerned they are going to run afoul of rules laid out in China’s DSL and PIPL, which both took effect in recent months, so they are erring on the side of caution and not transmitting the information.

The two laws restrict foreign access to any “important” data that appears to have any effect on national security or the nation’s infrastructure. Companies that fail to comply with the DSL or PIPL face millions of dollars in penalties. 

Because it is unclear how the laws will be enforced, Chinese AIS data vendors are cutting down on transmissions, the story said. One unnamed Chinese AIS data vendor told Reuters that it had actually stopped selling its AIS data to foreign entities.

Dina Temple-Raston is a senior correspondent at The Record, and previously served on NPR's Investigations team focusing on breaking news stories about national security, technology, and social justice.