Tech Insider

Friday, April 15, 2005

China Tightens Internet Filtering

China is the world‘s leading censor of the Internet, filtering web sites, blogs, e-mail, and online forums for sensitive political content, according to a study released Thursday.

The OpenNet Initiative said that China employs thousands officials and private citizens to build a "pervasive, sophisticated, and effective" system of Internet censorship.

"ONI sought to determine the degree to which China filters sites on topics that the Chinese government finds sensitive, and found that the state does so extensively," said the study, published at www.opennetinitiative.net/china.

"Chinese citizens seeking access to Web sites containing content related to Taiwanese and Tibetan independence, Falun Gong, the Dalai Lama, the Tiananmen Square incident, opposition political parties, or a variety of anti-Communist movements will frequently find themselves blocked," the report said.

The study, jointly conducted by Harvard University, the University of Cambridge and the University of Toronto, used four different tests to probe China‘s Internet blocks from inside and outside China, said John Palfrey, a project leader.

Volunteers inside China ran a special program designed to test what content was blocked by China, while ONI researchers accessed proxy servers in China, posted messages with sensitive content on popular web logs in China and sent test e-mails to and from major Internet Service Providers.

"China has the most extensive and effective legal and technological systems for Internet censorship and surveillance in the world today," Palfrey told officials and reporters at a Congressional hearing in Washington.

China used multiple, overlapping filtering methods and a mixture of soft and hard controls, including blocking by keywords, formal legal pressures and pressure on users and content providers, he said.

The filtering regime was not transparent or even openly admitted by Chinese authorities, and censorship decisions could not be appealed, creating a "climate of self-censorship," Palfrey said. Volunteers who helped run the study faced "substantial risk," he added.

As the regional Internet access provider for Vietnam, North Korea, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, China could export its content controls to those neighbors, said Palfrey, head of Harvard Law‘s School‘s Berkman Center for Internet & Society.

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