by Ryan Matsunaga
As of this past Friday, the Chinese government has put in place new restrictions on citizens’ Internet access. The new rules require Internet users to provide their legal names to service providers, and placing responsibility on those companies to report forbidden postings and activity to authorities. The new sanctions are one of many steps the government has taken in the past few months to curb access to politically sensitive web sites and content, allowing the government greater control in how they police Internet content.
The regulations were issued by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress. The Chinese government has a history of detaining Internet users for making comments that conflict with official government rhetoric, including calls for a greater level of democracy and the spotlighting of corrupt government authorities.
A spokesman for the National People’s Congress reported that 145 members of the committee voted in favor of the new rules, with 5 abstaining and 1 voting against them.
The past few weeks have seen a number of scandals in the Chinese media, sexual and financial, leading to numerous high-profile resignations and dismissals of government officials. While International news outlets have obviously been free to report on these events, a number of these web sites, including both the English and Chinese-language versions of the New York Times, have been blocked in China.
The Standing Committee also released an additional mandate calling for businesses in China to be more cautious in gathering electronic data.
Li Fei, the Deputy Director of the committees’ legislative affairs panel, spoke at a news conference in Beijing. In a prepared message, Fei attempted to clarify that these measures are effort to protect citizen’s personal information and legal rights on the Internet, while denying that that the government was looking to protect officials who have been accused of corruption.
“Nowadays on the Internet there are very serious problems with citizens’ personal electronic information being recklessly collected, used without approval, illegally disclosed, and even traded and sold. There are also a large number of cases of invasive attacks on information systems to steal personal electronic information, as well as lawbreaking on the Internet through swindles and through defaming and slandering others.
When citizens exercise these rights according to the law, no organization or individual can use any reason or excuse to interfere, and cannot suppress them or exact revenge. At the same time, when citizens exercise their rights, including through use of the Internet, they should stay within the bounds of the Constitution and the laws, and must not harm the legitimate rights and interests of the state, society, the collective or of other citizens.”
In the past months, China has been gradually ramping up measures to monitor and control what web sites could be accessible in the country. In an effort to shut down Chinese users who are looking to get around the stricter policies, authorities have begun blocking virtual private networks, or VPN’s.
VPN’s are a tool used for encrypted computer communication, allowing for businesses and users to get around web site blocks and to protect themselves from government surveillance. Over the past few months leading up to the congress, searches for “VPN” on the Chinese Google have seen a massive rise. Whether or not these latest Internet access measures are a reaction to that has yet to be confirmed.
Ryan Matsunaga is a freelance writer, filmmaker, game developer and superhero. He hopes to one day become a dinosaur. Or a detective. Or both. You can find more of his writing at his personal blog, 8th-Circuit.com, or follow him on Twitter @RyanMatsu.