China has restricted public access to shipping location data, pointing to national security concerns for justification, it is more evidence of the country’s intent to control sources of sensitive data, reports the Financial Times. The number of Automatic Identification System (AIS) signals from ships in Chinese waters dropped from a peak of more than 15 million per day in October to a little over 1 million per day in early November.
The AIS was developed to help avoid crashes between vessels and support rescue efforts in the event of a disaster. But it also become a valuable tool to enhance supply chain visibility and for governments to track activity in overseas ports.
“The intelligence extracted from this data endangers China’s economic security and the harm cannot be ignored,” warned a Chinese state media report on November 1 on AIS stations in the coastal province of Guangdong. Authorities interviewed in the report said foreign intelligence agencies, companies and think tanks use the system to keep tabs on China’s military vessels and analyze economic activity by surveying cargo traffic.
The decline in AIS data is one of the first signs of China’s new data protection regime, which restricts transfers of sensitive information overseas. Companies wanting to send important data abroad need to undergo a security assessment with the country’s data watchdog.