Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Fortifying the "Great (Fire) Wall"

The Chinese government has announced plans to police web forums, chat rooms and blogs alongside other websites.

(CNSNews.com) - The government of China, frequently accused of violating press freedom, is clamping down on blogs, ordering them to follow existing registration requirements for other Internet websites.

All bloggers have been instructed to register their sites and identify the person responsible for each one by the end of June, according to Beijing's Ministry of Information Industry.

The Chinese government says a system has been developed to monitor sites in real time, searching each one for a registration number. Those not registered would face penalties, including fines of up to one million yuan (about $121,000).

The ministry said almost 75 percent of all website already have been registered. The regulations were needed, it said, because of sex, violence, superstitions and "other harmful information" available online.

But the press advocacy group, Reporters without Borders, argues that the move is politically motivated.

"Those who continue to publish under their real names on sites hosted in China will either have to avoid political subjects or just relay the Communist Party's propaganda," the Paris-based group said.

"This decision will enable those in power to control online news and information much more effectively."

Blogs, or web logs, are increasingly popular online diary-type websites, providing an outlet for anyone to share his or her views about anything -- a rarity in countries such as China or Iran where freedom of speech is curtailed.

How many blogs exist in China is not known, but one portal alone, BlogChina, claims to have more than one million bloggers, the official China Daily reported this week.

Facing the new regulations, Chinese bloggers wanting to avoid problems may move their sites to servers based outside the country, but Chinese officials routinely block foreign-based sites considered subversive.

"The Chinese authorities use this type of announcement above all to intimidate website operators and bloggers," Reporters without Borders said.

"The authorities also hope to push the most outspoken online sites to migrate abroad where they will become inaccessible to those inside China because of the Chinese filtering systems."

In a recently-released study of Internet filtering in China, the OpenNet Initiative -- a collaborative partnership between universities in the U.S., Canada and Britain -- called China's system "the most sophisticated effort of its kind in the world ... pervasive, sophisticated, and effective."

According to Reporters without Borders, the system blocks access to hundreds of thousands of websites, including many dealing with news, ethnic minorities, human rights, the Falun Gong meditation movement, and pornography.

China also practices what's known as domain name system hijacking, redirecting often unwitting users away from sites it deems problematic, to alternative sites or to an invalid address.

At the same Beijing uses the Internet for propaganda purposes, promoting the Communist Party line on subjects ranging from human rights to Tibet.

The media watchdog also calls China "the world's biggest prison for cyber-dissidents" -- those who have used the Internet to question Beijing's policies or promote dissident viewpoints.