Today, China employs approximately 30,000 cyber-police to monitor Web traffic and postings from the country’s roughly 111 million Internet users. Writing articles “incompatible with the mainstream ideology” is prohibited. Posting messages that “damage the reputation of the state” can get you arrested. And publishing anything deemed to be a state secret can carry the death penalty. The list of banned websites now stands at 500,000 and growing.
Even with the full weight of the Communist regime behind it, the censorship effort would have been futile without equipment and know-how supplied by Western vendors like Cisco Systems Inc., SunMicrosystems Inc. and Nortel Networks Corp. And with the world’s three dominant Internet companies — Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft — in a blind rush for a piece of China’s spectacular wealth, Beijing has found all the willing accomplices it needs to strip the Internet of its anonymity, its freedom, and to turn it into yet another tool of repression. Google and Microsoft have recently launched Chinese versions of their Internet software that block access to topics that offend China’s ruling party, such as democracy and Tibet. Yahoo recently handed over a Chinese journalist to authorities after he posted information critical of the government on an Internet message board.
But the questions of human rights and corporate ethics in China go far beyond a single industry and a handful of companies.