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Internet Censorship in China

Internet Censorship in China

In a world where access to Internet is ubiquitous, Internet censorship seems to have jumped out of another era, in China. But it is a reality and the regulations are being tightened with passing time.
Tulika Nair
Bill Gates once very famously said, "The Internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow." But if the Internet censorship continues at the rate prevalent today, chances are China will more or less remain self-banished from this global village. According to different rules and regulations that govern the use of different websites, the information available to Chinese citizens is hugely regulated. While there are no specific laws that regulate Internet censorship, there are many different administrative regulations (almost 60) that together implement the different barriers in place to regulate access to information. This censorship of the Internet in China is not valid to places with independent power of judiciary like Hong Kong and Macau.

How the Internet has been Gagged in China

If you trace the history of Internet censorship in the country, you will realize that the first instance of regulation of the world wide web started in the year 1993, when the government of China decide to pass three different rules and regulations. Today the country has one of the biggest networks for Internet regulation in place. The Internet technology they use is known as the Golden Shield project and restricts the rights that citizens have to view thousands of websites. While with many websites there is no access allowed, there are others where information is restricted very stringently. Also in order for a normal citizen to be connected to the Internet from a cyber cafe, you need to supply the authorities running the place with a lot of personal information.

The technologies that the Chinese use in order to restrict Internet access are widely known to be the most advanced in the world. It is possible for authorities in China to not only block individual websites (mostly websites with pornographic content) and screen content on websites like wikipedia and YouTube, but also keep a check on the number of times an individual logs on, the sites he visits, and the information he procures. According to statistics, there are as many as 50,000 individuals who monitor Internet access of Chinese citizens. According to the non-governmental organization, Amnesty International, "China has the largest recorded number of imprisoned journalists and cyber-dissidents in the world." Most of these citizens have been arrested for a number of reasons that range between communication with foreign-based groups, opposition of the Falun Gong, interest in signing petitions for social causes, opposition of social evils like corruption, etc.

So how does the Chinese government keep a check on Internet usage and how does it violate Internet privacy? Very simply, they have Internet filters in place that scan the data on websites and raise red flags on coming across specified, sensitive words like Tiananmen Square etc. If a user tries to search for this information and the filters catch this, then the connection is broken immediately in order to prevent any access to information. Censorship has seen an increase with the proliferation of Internet technology. In fact last year a proposal that was revoked after wide scale protests, allowed the government to sell new computers, pre-installed with a software for censorship.

While the list of what topics should be regulated may keep changing, there are some themes and topics that are constant. These include information access on the Falun Gong, Tiananmen square, torture, and Taiwan. News about how China and Internet companies battle over censorship reached its pinnacle when in March, 2010, Google redirected all Google China searches to Google Hong Kong. Since then, after protests from the Chinese government, Google users are given the option to be redirected to Google Hong Kong. This was done to avoid a revocation of Google's Internet content provider license.

In recent times, the Chinese government has undertaken drives to reduce the criticism that they are faced with due to their censorship policies. Most of these neutralizing efforts, though, has come in the form of deletion of those comments from forums and blogs that were critical of the government's regulation. The country's policies has received a lot of international attention, especially noticeable when US President Barack Obama while addressing students in Shanghai made a statement regarding the censorship saying, "I think that the more freely information flows, the stronger the society becomes, because then citizens of countries around the world can hold their own governments accountable. They can begin to think for themselves." Not unexpectedly the comments were censored when broadcast on television.