‘Apple respected Chinese law in operating local data centres’: pundits rubbish Washington’s claim that company made concessions to Beijing

As US government finds new angles from which to attack tech giant over encryption case relating to San Bernardino gunmen, experts pick holes in its arguments

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 March, 2016, 8:02pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 March, 2016, 1:17pm

Apple’s operation of data centres in mainland China reflected increasing efforts by foreign information technology suppliers to comply with the country’s rigid security laws, while ensuring data in its other markets are also protected, analysts said.

They see Apple providing a pragmatic solution to abide by domestic laws, following the technology giant’s latest court filing in the United States against the Department of Justice.

READ MORE: How Apple wound up in FBI’s encryption crosshairs over San Bernardino shooting - and what it may mean for Chinese tech firms

The US government, led by the FBI, is demanding that Apple unlock an iPhone used by one of the gunmen who killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California, in December.

A previous government filing claimed that Apple made special concessions in China, the company’s second-biggest geographical market by revenue, that included establishing data centres in the country.

“Having data centres in different jurisdictions for different clients is all about complying with applicable laws,” said Paul Haswell, a partner at technology focused international law firm Pinsent Masons.

“Doing so will enable a company to keep data belonging to and originating from mainland Chinese customers in the country, separate from data belonging to non-Chinese clients.”

According to US think tank the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, China was committed to enforcing local data storage requirements. It said Article 31 of the mainland’s cybersecurity law requires “critical information infrastructure operators” to store citizens’ personal information and other important data collected or generated in the country.

Data centres are secure facilities built to house large-capacity servers and computer-storage systems, and feature multiple power sources and high-bandwidth internet connections.

These host cloud services, which allow users to buy, lease, sell or distribute software and other digital resources online, just like electricity from a power grid.

“It is fairly common that governments have requirements for data security, the protection of citizen information and location of data centres in the country,” Gartner analyst Sandy Shen said.

Forrester Research analyst Charlie Dai said the performance of online services, in terms of cutting lag time, is helped by setting up the data centre in the country.

“Apple has never made user data, whether stored on the iPhone or in iCloud, more technologically accessible to any country’s government,” Craig Federighi, the head of software engineering at Apple, said in a statement.