Many thanks to the Economist for explaining the extra-ordinary methods the Chinese government takes to make sure the people of China are denied the right to access information from around the world.
The Chinese central government has two main ways of controlling what its citizens see on the web: the Great Firewall, as it is called by foreigners, which is a system of limiting access to foreign websites which started in the late 1990s, and the Golden Shield, a system for domestic surveillance set up in 1998 by the Ministry of Public Security. Separate government departments, along with local and provincial administrations, also have their own monitoring systems. China began by blocking a list of foreign websites, including Voice of America, human-rights organisations and some foreign newspapers. But its filters have since become more sophisticated and can now selectively block specific pages within foreign websites, rather than making the entire site inaccessible. They can also block particular terms when they are used in search queries or instant messages. Google is not blocked entirely; instead, users who search for banned keywords are blocked from Google for 90 seconds, though other websites remain available. China’s many internet companies are regularly issued with lists of restricted keywords, and often censor blog posts and other content pre-emptively to avoid trouble with the authorities. In all there are thought to be around 100,000 people, employed both by the state and by private companies, policing China’s internet around the clock. Since 2005 the state has also paid people, known as the “50 Cent Party”, to post pro-government messages and steer online conversations away from sensitive topics.
And did I say “right to access information from around the world”? Yep. I did and there is a reason it is a right — even in China (at least on paper).
To start with, China signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Article 19 of the UDHR clearly states:
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
And there is always the Chinese constitution (1982):
Article 35. Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration.
Article 40. The freedom and privacy of correspondence of citizens of the People’s Republic of China are protected by law. No organization or individual may, on any ground, infringe upon the freedom and privacy of citizens’ correspondence except in cases where, to meet the needs of state security or of investigation into criminal offences, public security or procuratorial organs are permitted to censor correspondence in accordance with procedures prescribed by law.
Article 41. Citizens of the People’s Republic of China have the right to criticize and make suggestions to any state organ or functionary. Citizens have the right to make to relevant state organs complaints and charges against, or exposures of, violation of the law or dereliction of duty by any state organ or functionary; but fabrication or distortion of facts with the intention of libel or frame-up is prohibited. In case of complaints, charges or exposures made by citizens, the state organ concerned must deal with them in a responsible manner after ascertaining the facts. No one may suppress such complaints, charges and exposures, or retaliate against the citizens making them. Citizens who have suffered losses through infringement of their civil rights by any state organ or functionary have the right to compensation in accordance with the law.
But later in the document is:
Article 51. The exercise by citizens of the People’s Republic of China of their freedoms and rights may not infringe upon the interests of the state…
And who defines what are “the interests of the state”? Why none other than the very people who do not want to hear any criticism and who want to make sure that the people of China also hear no criticism of the single-party rule in China.
And let us not forget that the censorship policies also affect trade.
The U.S. government submitted a “request for consultations” with the World Trade Organization about China’s Internet censorship. It seems the US — and the EU — are taking the position that blocking certain websites have a detrimental impact on trade.
- Freedom on the Net 2012
- Report on China Net Freedom
- WTO jangles keys to China censorship
- Internet censorship seen liable to WTO challenge
- “Sensitive Words”
Freedom House Internet Freedom Ranking of China