Regulated Internet





Regulated Internet

Internet is an important means for chinese citizens to get hold on information which would otherwise stay hidden from them. However, Chinese government is strictly regulating Internet us, and global IT firms and their search engines, like Google, Cisco, Yahoo, Microsoft, help to track cyber dissidents, who are mostly convicted for inciting subversion of state power.

The amount of internet users in China has increased from 100000 in 1996 to 111 million users in 2004. Internet is an important way for people to get hold on information. Even 30 million people use Internet in Internet Cafés: they are an important location for people to get grip on information gateway, and censorship with the help of global search engines poses a real threat to democratic information distribution.

Internet is however not a recent phenomena in China. China joined the global Internet 1994, and it became commercially available in 1995.

In 2004, nearly half of China´s 200000 Internet Cafés were banded or closed by the police while the rest had to install a surveillance software in their systems to track internet users´ online movements, keep records of their names, addresses and ID numbers, and more importantly, to help the police to perform the remote central monitoring and control of the internet activities.

At the moment there are 43 writers in Chinese prisons. 20 of them had internet-related convictions, and 13 were solely convicted for internet-related activities. The most usual charge, including 18 cases, was “inciting subversion of State power”, which caused a 2-7- years conviction. The most recent convicted is editor of Contemporary Business Review, Shi Tao, who got a 10-year sentence for inciting subversion of state power. The conviction was caused by an e-mail message which included information about the means by which Chinese state regulates media.

Under state regulation

However Internet in China is subject to the administration of several government departments and is by no means free means of communication and seeking for information. China’s Internet regulations may be among the most extensive and restrictive in the world. At least twelve different government bureaus have some authority over the Internet, including the powerful State Council Information Office, the Ministry of Public Security, and the Ministry of Information Industry, which is in charge of the licensing and registration of all Internet content providers

The government regulates Internet according to law and has accordingly enacted relevant rules and regulations, which are consistent with international practice. According to this law, it is forbidden to utilize the Internet for rumour mongering, defamation or publicizing or transmitting any harmful information or incite subversion of the State power, repudiate the socialist system, incite the break-up of the nation or undermine the unity of the nation. Continually, it is forbidden to steal or divulge state secrets, utilize the Internet to incite hatred against people, racism against peoples, or undermine the solidarity of peoples. To end, utilizing Internet to organize evil cult organizations, communicate with the members of evil cult organizations, or disrupt the implementation of national laws and administrative rules,

A censorship system is called Golden Shield, and it is implemented by various provincial branches of state-owned ISPs, business companies and organizations. The system blocks content by preventing IP addresses from being routed through and consists of standard firewall and proxy servers at the Internet gateways. The system also selectively engages in DNS poisoning when particular sites are requested.

China has also it´s own cybernet police force in 31 provinces, and 40000 officials and over 100 websites. It became an independent task force which could set up the ranks in 2003. It started being organized as a branch of Public Security Police in several large cities since 1996.

Mr. Liu Zhengrong, deputy chief of the Internet Affairs Bureau of the State Council Information Office, made a number controversial statements in an official press conference, held on February 14. He said for example, that there is no list that names websites and the types of contents that are not allowed or disseminated, that foreign websites cannot be fully accessed in China because they include contents that are against Chinese laws. He also claimed that no website had been shut so far, nobody had been arrested for publishing his/her comments on the Internet and that there is no such thing as Cyber Police in China.

All these claims have proved to be wrong.

Blocked websites

The blocked websites and censored contents in Chinese Internet include sites of international news agencies like Hong Kong News, BBC Chinese, VOA, RFA, information about human rights, freedom of expression, democracy, religion, Tiananmen events 1989, Taiwan, Tibetan independence, Falun Gong, well-known dissidents and websites as Al, HRW, ICPC. Also access to popular websites of the most overseas Chinese media and organizations, and the websites critical of Chinese leaders or those expressing political views different from Chinese government are blocked.

Human Rights Watch´s report, launched in August 2006, “Race to the Bottom” Corporate Complicity in Chinese Internet Censorship, illustrates concretely how the censorship across search engines works. Selection of twenty-five URLs for the URL search focused primarily on politically sensitive websites (such as savetibet.org, Taiwan government, or Falungong), activist sites (Human Rights in China), international news sites (BBC and Time.com), or sites that enable people to share user-generated content or citizens’ media (GlobalVoicesOnline, Technorati, etc.). Websites for a few organizations that the Chinese government views favorably or neutrally were also included (Harvard.edu, Unicef.org, Greenpeace.org) to demonstrate that uncensored results are possible across all services.

Human Rights Watch chose twenty-five keywords-twenty politically sensitive terms or names, plus the names of two Chinese celebrities, one company name and two city names-to demonstrate that completely uncensored results are possible across all services. These keywords were then plugged into Google.cn, Google.com, Yahoo! China (cn.yahoo.com), Yahoo.com, MSN Chinese "beta" search (search.msn.com.cn), MSN Search (U.S.), and Baidu. The results on Google.com, Yahoo.com, and MSN Search (U.S.) are uncensored for Chinese political terms (though they are censored for copyright violations and child pornography).

Google, MSN, and Yahoo! China all notify users in different ways that censorship is taking place, although no information is specified as to how many results were blocked, what exactly was blocked, or how they were blocked. The only way to infer answers is to make comparisons with these search engines' U.S.-based counterparts.

Human Rights Watch strongly criticized the decision by Yahoo! to release the identity of private users to the Chinese authorities. This assisted in the imprisonment and heavy sentences of four Chinese government critics, Shi Tao, Li Zhi, Jiang Lijun, and Wang Xiaoning. In a letter to Human Rights Watch, published in the report, Yahoo! states that it was only following local laws. But the tests showed that Yahoo! China’s level and method of search censorship is as bad and in some cases worse than the heavily censored Baidu, China’s most popular homegrown search engine. The tests also showed that Google is the most transparent in informing users about censorship.

Human Rights Watch called the United States, the European Union and other jurisdictions to pass legislation prohibiting companies from storing personal user data on servers in China. The aim of this legislation should not be to prevent U.S. or other international companies from operating in China. Rather, the goal should be for companies in the business of disseminating information and ideas to adhere to these goals in China, not to participate in or facilitate censorship or the arrest of individuals involved in peaceful expression, and to set a strong example of ethical corporate behavior.

“Laws are needed to end this race to the bottom and establish a level playing field so that the Chinese government can’t pick off companies one by one,” said
Adams. “Otherwise the standard set will be that of the company trying the hardest to please the Chinese government.”

Human Rights Watch demanded the following principles should be included in legislation on corporate responsibility to uphold human rights:

  • No user data should be stored in jurisdictions where there is a strong record of punishing individuals for exercising basic rights such as freedom of expression;
  • Companies should not take on the role of active censors;
  • Companies should be prohibited from complying with oral, undocumented requests from the authorities for censorship of political speech;
  • Companies should make public on their websites when a government has forced them to censor political speech;
  • When a search returns no results, or only censored results, companies should be required to clearly inform users; and
  • Legislation should be adopted by all countries and should apply to companies operating in all countries.

Concern about censorship aided by search engines

In addition, Chinese lawyers who defend human rights and expose the absence of an independent judiciary are under increasing attack from state authorities, Human Rights Watch said in their press release in 23rd of August. According to Human Rights Watch, the central government must respond to the recent spate of harassment, detentions, and physical attacks on human rights lawyers.

Two of China’s most prominent lawyers are currently facing prosecutions that seem to be politically motivated. Beijing lawyer Gao Zhisheng, an outspoken advocate of the rights of victims of government violations and abuse of power, was detained on August 15 on charges of alleged involvement in criminal activities. In 2005, authorities stripped Gao of his right to practice law.

Human Rights Watch also urged the central government to take immediate steps to ensure the effective protection of lawyers.

Rita Dahl

Alustus pidetty Communism and Human Rights in China -seminaarissa Helsingin yliopistolla 8.9.

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