Censored and Policed
By Jessica Hall
Think the parental control software your folks installed on your computer unfairly restricts your time online? Imagine if you had to register with the local police department in order to access the Internet. Since 1996, that is what new Internet subscribers are required to do in China.
The government created the Golden Shield Project in 1998, employing 30,000 police officers to monitor and censor the Internet. Today, in order to comply with government restrictions, many corporations hire employees solely to monitor the postings on their Web sites – preemptively deleting taboo topics.
The primary target of this censorship is any unfavorable portrayals of the Chinese government, particularly as it pertains to China’s rule over Tibet. In 1950, China took control of Tibet, claiming “centuries-old sovereignty.” Nine years later, an uprising against China failed, leading to the Dalai Lama’s exile in India. China has held a tight grip on Tibet ever since, violating the basic human rights of dissidents.
Other prohibited Internet topics include democracy, human rights and all obscene and pornographic materials. Sites such as YouTube and Wikipedia are inaccessible, although it’s not common for entire sites to get blocked –just the prohibited topics.
China censors the Internet through a variety of technological methods, social and financial pressure, and licensing requirements. The police in some cities and provinces increased their Internet presence with the introduction of cartoon police characters. The characters frequently pop up on Web sites, reminding users of Internet laws and giving tips for compliance.
The government uses the same strategy to limit the search results shown to Chinese-speakers outside of China. However, if someone really wants access to censored material, there are ways around the blocks that the government doesn’t try to stop. Yet, by making it difficult to access censored information, most people won’t bother trying.
China’s censorship of the Internet has caused a great deal of controversy for prominent search engines, such as Google, that censor their search results to comply with the Chinese government’s ever-changing policies. As pressure from Westerners and human rights groups increases, the companies are responding by working with human rights organizations and others to explore alternate solutions to comply with censorship laws. The search engines have also limited their censorship practices. For instance, Microsoft now will only delete a blog or Web site when it receives a legally binding request from the Chinese government.
Bans are sometimes modified, for special occasions, as they will be for the Olympics, which will draw millions of foreigners to China. Olympic visitors will likely be surprised to find that they are able to freely access websites discussing topics they’ve heard to be taboo. Chinese authorities have directed engineers at two companies to unblock the IP addresses of computers where Westerners may try to access the Internet while visiting. Cyber cafes, hotels and conference centers are prime examples of locations where you will be able to access regularly blocked sites.
Taking advantage of the global Olympic spotlight, Human rights activists in China, including the International Tibet Independence Movement are calling world wide attention to the injustices committed by the Chinese Communist government towards the Tibetan people and their struggle to free Tibet from Chinese rule. Through diplomacy and peaceful activism, the Dalai Lama, Tibetans and their supporters hope to condemn China and end its authority over Tibet.