Beijing blocking access to shipping data over security concerns: Report

BEIJING • China is preventing public access to shipping location signals because of national security concerns, the Financial Times reported yesterday, as Beijing seeks greater control over the country's economic data.

The number of Automatic Identification System (AIS) signals coming from ships in Chinese waters dropped from more than 15 million per day last month to about one million per day early this month, the paper reported, without saying where the information came from.

The data could not immediately be verified.

That steep decline comes after a Nov 1 report in Chinese state media about AIS stations in coastal Guangdong province warning that "the intelligence extracted from this data endangers China's economic security and the harm cannot be ignored".

China's decision to curtail the flow of information out of its ports coincided with the Personal Information Protection Law, which took effect on Nov 1.

That legislation is meant to regulate the flow of Chinese data overseas and ensure the gathering of such data is minimised, according to state-run media.

Shipping companies have already reported a diminished ability to accurately track activity in Chinese ports without the data, Ms Charlotte Cook, head trade analyst at VesselsValue, told FT.

AIS signals previously allowed companies and governments to assess activity levels in Chinese ports, which have been congested by supply chain snarls and pandemic controls in recent months.

China this month punished an unnamed non-governmental organisation (NGO) for collecting "sensitive" maritime data and sharing it abroad.

The NGO set up coastal monitoring stations near military sites to track offshore debris, threatening China's national security, said the Communist Party's highest law enforcement body, the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 25, 2021, with the headline 'Beijing blocking access to shipping data over security concerns: Report'. Subscribe