How China pursues its Internet control obsession
Published on Wednesday 31 August 2011.
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The authorities continue to reinforce their control of the
Internet in China, which held its 10th annual China Internet Conference on 23
August in Beijing.
Use of the Internet has grown enormously in recent years. China
now has half a billion Internet users. Facebook and Twitter are censored but
Sina Weibo, the Chinese microblogging website, has more than 200 million users.
The public’s enthusiasm for the Internet and the government’s fear of online
protests has resulted in constant improvements in online censorship. Weibo, for
example, now employs 100 people around the clock just to monitor the content
being posted online, according to the magazine Forbes.
Here is an overview of the latest Chinese “innovations” in
Internet censorship and control.
In a report published earlier this month, McAfee’s Internet security experts said they believed a major state-sponsored hacking campaign had been under way since 2006. China was suspected. “Everything points to China,” security expert Jim Lewis said. There was evidence in support of the claim in a 17 July report on China’s state-owned TV station CCTV-7 showing someone carrying out a DDoS-type attack on a site operated by the Falun Gong movement, which is banned in China. The report was subsequently removed from the station’s website.
The Chinese authorities also reportedly orchestrated a wave of
cyber-attacks on Tibetan websites in mid-August after a young Tibetan monk,
Tsewang Norbu, set fire to himself. The authorities had already tightened
censorship after another young monk, Phuntsog, set fire to himself in Kirti in
March. According to Free Tibet, the phone lines in the region were temporarily
cut and Internet cafés were closed.
Economic censorship of Internet cafés
The authorities have also forced public WiFi access providers to
install extremely expensive user tracking software. As a result, they are both
reinforcing their control of Internet traffic and imposing an form of economic
censorship, as small businesses have to stop offering WiFi if they cannot afford
The official news agency Xinhua reported on 8 August that the
government wanted to tighten Internet access rules in order to guarantee “a
healthy Internet” for future generations. In its Plan for the Development of
Chinese Children covering the period until 2020, the government talks of an
additional software programme for children that will “filter dangerous content.”
The plan also envisages banning minors from Internet cafés.
During a visit to the headquarters of Sina Corp on 22 August,
Beijing party secretary Liu Qi called on Internet entrepreneurs to reinforce
control of content circulating online. In a clearly-worded directive the same
week, the Beijing Internet Media Association said: “Online news should be
trustworthy and should not spread rumours or vulgar content.” The microblogging
website Weibo was quick to comply, closing the accounts of some users for a
month for allegedly spreading “false rumours.”
Chinese Internet users are familiarizing themselves with the use
of censorship circumvention resources, a development that both the authorities
and some private-sector companies intend to check. The business site Taobao.com
decided on 23 August to stop selling Virtual Private Networks and proxies
without being told to do so by the authorities. Reporters Without Borders is
disturbed to see the private sector anticipating government orders on Internet
Arrests and repression
Arrests and convictions of netizens are meanwhile continuing.
Wang Lihong (王荔蕻) appeared in court on 12
August for trying to organize a demonstration. The verdict will be announced in
September. She is facing a possible five-year sentence.
It turns out that Hu Di (胡荻), a
netizen who went missing in March, was in fact put in a psychiatric hospital
although he has no mental illness. He is now in poor physical health but his
morale is high, according to another cyber-dissident, Zheng Tao (郑涛), who was
able to visit him. Zheng has himself been detained since 21 August as a result
of the visit.
Ding Mao (丁矛) and Chen
Wei (陈卫), two netizens who were arrested
on 19 and 20 February, are still detained. There were taken before a prosecutor
for the second time in mid-August. The authorities must now decide whether to
try or release them.
The cyber-dissident Liu Gengsong
(吕耿松) was meanwhile released on 23 August on completing a
four-year jail sentence.
Reporters Without Borders calls on the authorities to release all
imprisoned netizens without delay and to drop all the charges against them.
China is on the Reporters Without Borders list of Enemies of the
Internet and is ranked 171st out of 178 countries in its press freedom index.