Today the OpenNet Initiative released a new report about Internet censorship in China. While a number of studies have established that China blocks search results about certain political, cultural, and religious subjects (see this report, for example), the new study takes the investigation a step further by looking at China's filtering of the Google cache. Caching -- the process of taking snapshots of webpages and archiving the data -- is a common practice for search engines like Google. As the report notes, accessing the cache is a "well known method of ad hoc circumvention of Internet censorship." ONI researchers from the Citizen Lab, the University of Cambridge, and the Berkman Center found that China's filtering mechanisms interrupt any search specifically targeted at cached data, both Google and non-Google and regardless of domain name. A story in today's Wall Street Journal (subscription required) broke the news of the ONI report, and another report appeared on Slashdot. Read the full ONI Bulletin.
From today's Wall Street Journal article:
"THE PHALANX of barriers China uses to block access to dissenting views on the Internet is growing in sophistication and reach, stretching from network nerve centers to home desktop computers.
China's Internet police are using a filtering technology to, in effect, disable a popular feature of the search engine Google, according to a team of researchers at Cambridge, Harvard and Toronto universities. The feature taps into snapshots of Web pages stored on Google's servers -- which are based outside China -- and was once a common way for Chinese to view sites that were otherwise blocked.
Separately, a research project at the University of California, Berkeley, found a list of banned words and phrases that a Chinese company embeds in desktop software to filter messaging among PCs and cellphones. Among the more than 1,000 taboo terms: "democracy," "sex" and "Hu Jintao," China's president.
Added together, these reports are helping to flesh out the shape of what critics have dubbed "the Great Firewall of China" and show how successful China has been in bringing to heel the Internet, which was once championed abroad as an unruly marketplace of ideas that would promote free expression. The communist government has jailed people for disseminating politically critical views, in part to serve as a warning to other Web users. But it has never publicly disclosed its policing
methods; the Ministry of Public Security, the agency in charge of supervising the Internet, said yesterday it couldn't comment on its monitoring and the assertions in the foreign research reports.
Now, with groups of researchers outside China probing for cracks in the firewall, a clearer picture is emerging."