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China blocks access to delivery location data

China has blocked public access to shipping location data, citing national security concerns, in another sign of its determination to control sources of sensitive information.

The number of Automatic Identification System (AIS) signals from ships in Chinese waters has dropped significantly from a peak of more than 15m per day in October to just over 1m per day in early November.

AIS was originally developed to help avoid collisions between ships and aid rescue efforts in the event of a disaster. But it also becomes a valuable tool for enhancing supply chain visibility and for governments to monitor activity in foreign ports.

“The intelligence extracted from this data jeopardizes China’s economic security and the harm cannot be ignored.” warning a Chinese state media report on November 1 about AIS stations in the coastal province of Guangdong.

Authorities interviewed for the report said foreign intelligence agencies, companies and consulting organizations use the system to track Chinese military vessels and analyze economic activity by cargo traffic survey.

The drop in AIS data is one of the first victims of China’s new data protection regime, which restricts the transfer of sensitive information abroad. Companies that want to send important data abroad need to undergo a security review with the country’s data watchdog.

Anastassis Touros, head of the AIS team at information provider MarineTraffic, said he does not believe AIS data poses a national security risk and that military ships often conceal their locations with tracking devices. .

Charlotte Cook, trade analyst at VesselsValue, a marine data provider, said the drop in AIS data from the first week of November has affected our ability to accurately track activity at ports. China.

Touros says reduced visibility will likely cause more congestion at Chinese ports, which are already mesh lock amid bad weather and pandemic-related disruptions, as it becomes more difficult to time trains to arrive at times of low traffic. But a shipping executive and two forwarders say the lack of AIS data on the ground won’t make congestion worse.

The graph shows the daily terrestrial AIS position in Chinese waters (m).  The number of signals dropped dramatically from a peak of more than 15 million per day in October to just over 1 million per day in early November

Gregory Poling, co-author of the Center for Strategic and International Studies recently, said the safety of ships sailing in Chinese waters is also unlikely to be compromised. The report used AIS data to analyze militia deployments. He said Chinese officials will have other systems in place to track boats through coastal waters.

AIS data provides analysts with insight into port activity globally, but China is the only one to describe the data as a national security issue. Touros notes that even the stringent European General Data Protection Regulation does not restrict vendors from using AIS.

But Beijing is more sensitive to the sharing of geo-location data, notably with penalties for ride-hailing company Didi Chuxing for willful data breaches.

“The collection and sharing of geolocation data, especially for shipping routes up and down the Chinese coast, is a problem,” said Carolyn Bigg, a technology attorney at DLA Piper. very sensitive subject.

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