Chinas Webzensur unter der Lupe

Beim chinesischen Nationalkongress am Wochenende wird auch das Thema Webzensur auf der Tagesordnung stehen, meldet die New York Times: For many China watchers, the holding of a National People's Congress beginning this weekend is an ideal occasion for gleaning the inner workings of this country's closed political system. For specialists in China's Internet controls, though, the gathering of legislators and top political leaders offers a chance to measure the state of the art of Web censorship. The authorities set the tone earlier this week, summoning the managers of the country's main Internet providers, major portals and Internet cafe chains and warning them against allowing "subversive content" to appear online. "Some messages on the Internet are sent by those with ulterior motives," Qin Rui, the deputy director of the Public Information and Internet Security Supervision Bureau, was quoted as saying in The Shanghai Daily. Stern instructions like those are in keeping with a trend aimed at assigning greater responsibility to Internet providers to assist the government and its army of as many as 50,000 Internet police, who enforce limits on what can be seen and said. "If you say something the Web administrator doesn't like, they'll simply block your account," said Bill Xia, a United States-based expert in Chinese Internet censorship, "and if you keep at it, you'll gradually face more and more difficulties and may land in real trouble." According to Amnesty International, arrests for the dissemination of information or beliefs via the Internet have been increasing rapidly in China, snaring students, political dissidents and practitioners of the banned spiritual movement Falun Gong, but also many writers, lawyers, teachers and ordinary workers. Already the most sophisticated in the world, China's Internet controls are stout even in the absence of crucial political events. In the last year or so, experts say the country has gone from so-called dumb Internet controls, which involve techniques like the outright blocking of foreign sites containing delicate or critical information and the monitoring of specific e-mail addresses to far more sophisticated measures. Newer technologies allow the authorities to search e-mail messages in real time, trawling through the body of a message for sensitive material and instantaneously blocking delivery or pinpointing the offender. Other technologies sometimes redirect Internet searches from companies like Google to copycat sites operated by the government, serving up sanitized search results. China's latest show of growing prowess in this area came in January after a major political event, the death of the former leader Zhao Zhiyang, who had been held under house arrest since appearing to side with students in 1989 during the Tiananmen demonstrations. When the official New China News Agency put out a laconic bulletin about his death, placing it relatively low in its hierarchy of daily news stories, most of the rest of China's press quickly and safely followed suit. On their Web sites, one newspaper after another ran the news agency's sterile bulletin rather than take risks with commentary of their own. What happened on campuses was far more interesting, though. University bulletin boards lit up with heavy traffic just after Mr. Zhao's death was announced. But for all of the hits on the news item related to his death, virtually no comments were posted, creating a false impression of lack of interest. "Zhao's death was the first big test since the SARS epidemic," said Xiao Qiang, an expert on China's Internet controls at the University of California at Berkeley. But if the government is investing heavily in new Internet control technologies, many experts said the sophistication of Chinese users was also increasing rapidly, as are their overall numbers, leading to a cat-and-mouse game in which, many say, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the censors to prevail.


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