Beijing on Tuesday unveiled a plan to set up a new national-level government office to oversee the security of all state-owned data and ensure that information is shared between government agencies. Plans for the National Data Bureau, part of an overhaul state institutions under the State Council, China’s cabinet, were presented by State Council secretary general Xiao Jie to the National People’s Congress for deliberation. Under the plan, the new bureau would be managed by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), China’s powerful economic planning body. The agency would be responsible for “coordinating and promoting the construction of data infrastructure, coordinating the integration, sharing, development and utilisation of data resources ” across China’s economy and society, according to Xiao. The bureau would take over many responsibilities from the powerful Central Office of the Central Cyberspace Affairs Commission, the Communist Party oversight body that sits at the top of the State Council’s Cyberspace Administration. It would also take over regulation of China’s digital economy and the implementation of a national big data strategy, including infrastructure, which has been under the NDRC. On Friday, nearly 3,000 Chinese legislators will cast their vote on the changes as part of an ambitious restructuring plan for party and state institutions. Xie Maosong, senior researcher at the National Institute of Strategic Studies at Beijing’s Tsinghua University, said the new bureau was being created to cope with many problems facing China’s big data ambitions, especially the “silo mentality” among the government bodies and companies. “For example, a small-scale smart city plan probably comes from the police, tax bureaus, population registration bodies, traffic management, utility and transport companies, schools, banks, etc,” he said. “So you can imagine how problematic a national big data plan will be. Even government bodies … are very unwilling to share data, not to mention the private companies , who collect data for business purposes.” China’s CAC finalises contract for companies that send Chinese data overseas An official from the National Health Commission said the central government had always wanted to unify health code systems from various provinces for contact tracing in its massive Covid-19 work, but it was too big of a task. “Every province has their own health code system. We had wanted them to talk to each other, but it was so difficult,” the official said. “Even now that the country has relaxed Covid controls and removed health codes, the health code standardisation is only half done.” Xie said the new agency would have a difficult task since many public and private institutions did not have proper infrastructure or data security. “It will also keep a close eye on the data operations of China’s big internet companies to try to prevent incidents like DiDi’s data breach from happening again,” he said. The ride hailing firm was fined more than 8 billion yuan (US$1.2 billion) last year after it illegally collected screenshots and passenger facial recognition and location data dating back to 2015. China tech firms need to raise security efforts with ChatGPT-like services “The new data bureau will enforce China’s network security laws, data security laws and laws protecting personal information,” Xie said. The data overhaul plan is part of a closely guarded “party and state institution reform plan” passed during the Communist Party’s second plenum earlier this month. Xiao’s presentation was the first glimpse into the plan. The full reform plan is expected to be released after the closing of the parliamentary sessions.