Chinese Censors and Web Users Match Wits

Howard French reports in the New York Times that the gathering of legislators and top political leaders offers a chance to measure the state of the art of Web censorship. The authorities set the tone earlier this week, summoning the managers of the country’s main Internet providers, major portals and Internet cafe chains and warning them against allowing “subversive content” to appear online.

From the article: “Newer technologies allow the authorities to search e-mail messages in real time, trawling through the body of a message for sensitive material and instantaneously blocking delivery or pinpointing the offender. Other technologies sometimes redirect Internet searches from companies like Google to copycat sites operated by the government, serving up sanitized search results.”

“Zhao’s death was the first big test since the SARS epidemic,” said Xiao Qiang, an expert on China’s Internet controls at the University of California at Berkeley.

“But if the government is investing heavily in new Internet control technologies, many experts said the sophistication of Chinese users was also increasing rapidly, as are their overall numbers, leading to a cat-and-mouse game in which, many say, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the censors to prevail.”

“At 94 million users, China has the world’s second-largest population of Internet users, after the United States, and usage here, most of it broadband, is growing at double-digit rates every year.”

“As with the policing efforts, the evasion techniques range from the sly and simple – aliases and deliberate misspellings to trick key-word monitors and thinly veiled sarcastic praise of abhorrent acts by the government on Web forums that seem to confound the censors – to so-called proxy servers, encryption and burying of sensitive comments in image files, which for now elude real-time searches.”


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