Keith Bradsher of the New York Times reports on the growth of censorship of the internet by the Chinese government and the close connection between efforts to monitor and censor pornography and political thought online. This comes at a time when the Chinese government has already received much international attention for its Green Dam-Youth Escort censorship and monitoring program required to be preinstalled on all new computers in China.
Liu Xiaobo, one of China’s best-known dissidents, was formally arrested Tuesday on suspicion of subversion, six months after he was detained for joining other intellectuals in signing a document calling for democracy. This month, the authorities refused to renew the licenses of more than a dozen lawyers after they agreed to represent clients in human rights cases.
The same public security agencies charged with fighting pornography are responsible for suppressing illegal political activity, said Nicholas Bequelin, a researcher in Hong Kong for Human Rights Watch. The government’s statistics for seizures of illegal publications tend to include both pornographic and political documents, he noted.
“The two are closely associated,” Mr. Bequelin said. “These campaigns work hand in hand.”
It’s not shocking that tools used to censor one type of information would be well-suited to censor another type of information. It’s just rare that a government would engage in such brazen efforts to limit what information their citizenry would have about key historic events, territories occupied by the Chinese military, and religious groups.
Additionally, the Bradsher piece includes this bit of information about China’s surveillance state infrastructure that I was unaware of:
For example, Chinese law requires that karaoke bars, nightclubs and Internet cafes be monitored 24 hours a day by closed-circuit television cameras on the grounds that prostitutes may try to find clients at such locations. But according to security industry executives, China’s anti-prostitution surveillance regulations are stricter on the Internet cafes.
While nightclubs and karaoke bars are required to store their video records on their premises, Internet cafes must be wired to the nearest police station and provide a continuous, instantaneous record of who is using which computer. If an e-mail message from a cafe’s computer later catches the attention of investigators, the police can review the video records to see who was using the computer.
Good to know that if I’m ever in China, I probably shouldn’t use a public internet cafe.
This information about the Chinese government’s censorship of the internet and intense efforts to monitor everything that their citizenry searches for online is deeply disturbing. It’s yet another instantiation of the Chinese government using high tech tools and software – many of them made by American technology companies – to maintain their control of political power. These are not the actions of a government that finds its authority in the support of the people. And it certainly isn’t how a respected member of the global community behaves. Most importantly, the systemic distrust of the government of its people can only, on a long enough time line, lead to its downfall.