Friday, July 01, 2005

China's Cyber Space Patrol

Chinese websites are now required to register with the national authorities prior to 10 June or the government plans to close them down at least temporarily.

AFP reported that the Ministry of Information Industry was attempting "to control domestic internet information services..."

If they are closed they will still be allowed 10 days to comply with the registration requirements. Then they will be closed for good the government agency promises.

So far the Chinese government has required internet cafes (which are legion in the developing world where every kid and business person has a computer, laptop and, probably, wireless services) to register with the Ministry before being allowed to offer internet access. Websites of size have already been forced to sign a "code of conduct" that would control the content of websites and chatrooms. Blogs are not noted in the article.

Since I often watch Chinese blogs and bloggers out of interest for the culture of both China and the blogosphere; I would expect more stringent rules to emerge very soon that would attempt to control this modern mode of communication that is, perhaps, uncontrollable.

In China the effort to control the content of the net and access to it is called "The Great Firewall of China." Obviously the idea is to keep free lines of communication off the internet -- especially "subversive", anti-government discussions and postings.

According to AFP " ... The Chinese government forecasts the country will have 120 million Internet users by the end of 2005, a figure that would mark a growth of nearly 28 percent from 94 million at the end of 2004."

In the period immediately preceding the breakup of the U.S.S.R. I attended a prophetic lecture by a political scientist. I was the photographer and had time to listen (it had been my undergraduate and grad school majors, after all). I have forgotter (forgive me) his name but the gist of the long talk was that the growth of personal computers, fax machines, photocopiers (cell phones and the net came later) would seriously hamper the efforts of authoritarian governments to control their citizens with Big Brother techniques of mid control and to limit the passage of information.

A few years later came the Tianaman Square massacre and it grew into a threat to the government and then a bloodbath precisely because people were able to reproduce information and transmit it around the world. And this was still before the internet.

What China will do and how well it will succeed remains a fascinating question. Theirs is a growing, strengthening, and dynamic society and economy. They have embraced technology and speak of democracy. Perhaps we will begin to see those limits (or changes) as well as how well the new technologies work in the world to guarantee the free transmission and expression of ideas.

There is a great deal more to this story. Check Yahoo and Google and other search engines under "China and blogs" and you will see an international concern being voiced.

MSNBC is yet another voice heard from on the subject of the Chinese censorship attempt.

I quote Google's synopsis: SHANGHAI, China - "Authorities have ordered all China-based Web sites and blogs to register or be closed down, in the latest effort by the communist government to police the world of cyberspace.

Commercial publishers and advertisers can face fines of up to 1 million yuan ($120,000) for failing to register, according to documents posted on the Web site of the Ministry of Information Industry.

Private, noncommercial bloggers or Web sites must register the complete identity of the person responsible for the site, it said. The ministry, which has set a June 30 deadline for compliance, said 74 percent of all sites had already registered."