China Tightens Censorship of Electronic Communications

The New York Times reports on the tightening of online communication in China, as seen through disruption of services and Gmail, among other things:

A host of evidence over the past several weeks shows that Chinese authorities are more determined than ever to police cellphone calls, electronic messages, e-mail and access to the Internet in order to smother any hint of antigovernment sentiment. In the cat-and-mouse game that characterizes electronic communications here, analysts suggest that the cat is getting bigger, especially since revolts began to ricochet through the Middle East and North Africa, and homegrown efforts to organize protests in China began to circulate on the Internet about a month ago.

“The hard-liners have won the field, and now we are seeing exactly how they want to run the place,” said Russell Leigh Moses, a Beijing analyst of China’s leadership. “I think the gloves are coming off.”…

Several popular virtual private-network services, or V.P.N.’s, designed to evade the government’s computerized censors, have been crippled. This has prompted an outcry from users as young as ninth graders with school research projects and sent them on a frustrating search for replacements that can pierce the so-called Great Firewall, a menu of direct censorship and “opinion guidance” that restricts what Internet users can read or write online. V.P.N.’s are popular with China’s huge expatriate community and Chinese entrepreneurs, researchers and scholars who expect to use the Internet freely…

Beyond these problems, anecdotal evidence suggests that the government’s computers, which intercept incoming data and compare it with an ever-changing list of banned keywords or Web sites, are shutting out more information. The motive is often obvious: For six months or more, the censors have prevented Google searches of the English word “freedom.”

See also “Google’s China problem” from the Global Post. In a blog post translated by Shanghaiist, prominent sexologist Li Yinhe expresses her exasperation at Internet censorship:

Yesterday, I found myself suddenly unable to send emails, but had no problem receiving emails. After looking through my email settings multiple times, I could find absolutely nothing wrong and as a last resort, I decided to call up the 263.com customer service. On the other end of the call was a polite male voice, who requested that I give him the error number, which I did. The troubleshooting took no time. He asked, “Can you see if your email has the following three English letters — ‘s’, ‘e’ and ‘x’?” I was flabbergasted beyond words. This was a business email discussing the publishing of the works of renowned German sexologist Erwin J. Haeberle in China — of course there was the word “sex” in it. Be that as it may, we finally spotted the reason, and I was able to send the email as soon as I deleted the word “sex”.

My God. Mamma mia. I really don’t know if I should cry or laugh. Our internet censors have gone crazy, but they really shouldn’t be driving us commonfolk crazy too.

March 21, 2011 9:42 PM
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