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One giant leap for Chinese Internet Censorship
September 9, 2009 5:18 AM   Subscribe

Chinese news site dispense with user anonymity. Includes an updated list of sites China actively blocks, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International (?!? - both links work only outside of China). prev
posted by allkindsoftime (40 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
They're almost as bad as the mods on this site.
posted by gman at 5:44 AM on September 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


You mean maoahowie?
posted by allkindsoftime at 5:52 AM on September 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


i've used the internet from china (English only though), otherwise i wouldn't make the comparison.
posted by gman at 5:57 AM on September 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


I'm sure that the people working on the censorship technology believe they're doing their patriotic duty. But when the sites blocked start to include things like Human Rights Watch, wou have to wonder how long it'll be before some of them start asking "are we the bad guys?".
posted by metaBugs at 6:12 AM on September 9, 2009


I don't know if you made that comment just to link to the funny video, but in case not...

Presumably those workers think that "Human Rights Watch" is an orwellian codeword/figleaf. Imagine a comment on ConservaFilter that went like this:
But when they are fighting against the Defense of Marriage Act, you have to wonder how long it'll be before some of them start asking "are we the bad guys".
One could no more object to defending marriage than to watching human rights.
posted by DU at 6:19 AM on September 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'd read similar news of impending regulation but this is off - just checked the registration process at a few popular portals, Baidu's Tieba, Sina and Wangyi and no hint of these requirements. Asked a Chinese friend who spends a lot of time online and they've not encountered it yet - I have seen voluntary stuff like Zhenmingwang and heard that some MMORPGs require it. Smacks a bit of the misinformed hyperbole that makes otherwise pertinent overseas criticism of China so easy for commenters here to dismiss -i .e. right in principle and definitely needs monitoring, but misses the target due to inaccuracy. Had a check of the Chinese Wiki page on it (no longer blocked from here) and that seems to confirm it's not in general use yet, though there are fears that it will creep into more areas (been reports on Net bars having such requirements, for example). This special page on the issue at Sina is still polling people on whether they think it's appropriate for China to introduce the system as apparently the ROK already has, and one of the stories linked is about the fierce debate of the introduction of real-name requirements to use QQ, the most popular chat programme.
It's also nonsense to say "any political debate is heavily clamped down upon" - there's all sorts of political debate, including trenchant critiques of policy as regards reform and so forth. The Sina portal on the name system feature debate on the policy. It is heavily policed and censored, but not in the crude way suggested.
Also not convinced Chinese Internet users are missing the Huffington Post very much!
posted by Abiezer at 6:27 AM on September 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


Kept looking and have come up with this from Rachel McKinnon who's obviously a bit more up to date than me - she links to the GFW blog that tests out several portals including those I mentioned and finds you need to enter your ID card number. I stand corrected .
posted by Abiezer at 6:34 AM on September 9, 2009


Also Jonathan Ansfield, who does know what he's on about - still can't see the requirement trying various log-in pages myself though. Maybe not fully rolled out yet.
posted by Abiezer at 6:38 AM on September 9, 2009


pertinent overseas criticism of China so easy for commenters here to dismiss

There is more than one commenter here that dismisses criticism of China?
posted by DU at 6:42 AM on September 9, 2009


Meant here in China DU and of course we're not short of people who do dismiss overseas criticisms. Anyway, just been to register and comment on a Sina news story and did it without an ID card number. Hmm.
posted by Abiezer at 6:46 AM on September 9, 2009


It's also nonsense to say "any political debate is heavily clamped down upon" - there's all sorts of political debate, including trenchant critiques of policy as regards reform and so forth. The Sina portal on the name system feature debate on the policy. It is heavily policed and censored, but not in the crude way suggested.
Also not convinced Chinese Internet users are missing the Huffington Post very much!
posted by Abiezer at 9:27 AM on September 9


If there is vigorous discussion of policy, then you have to ask why this is needed. It isn't censorship, because you can always say whatever you want after you enter your ID. This is what is referred to as a "chilling effect," because people will edit and temper their comments knowing full well that that comment can be linked directly to them.

The reason China is doing this is to prevent any organization of people around viewpoints or ideas. China has learned that as long as the government is large enough and an immediate enough presence in people's lives, it doesn't matter ho people express themselves - they are just individuals venting.

But if people have the ability to organize a group in secret, then you get things like the protests in Tiannenmen Square, labor strikes, etc. Even if organizing is illegal, the government still has to contend with the protest or the dispute once people are organized, because otherwise you have to crackdown in a politically embarrasing and damaging way. Other people watching a protest may not agree with the protestors, but they won't like to see their government cracking skulls either.

Imposing this measure while still allowing some disagreement is a clever little safety valve. It's walking the fine line between chilling effect and censoship. People will still vent their frustrations, but they will temper the language and narrow their target to a specific office or event. People won't bottle it up until they explode.

And by requiring people to register with their true ID, it becomes very difficult to organize national opposition groups or protests in secret that people will be comfortable joining. It won't completely prevent national protests, but it will prevent the organizers from being able to leverage the power of the internet to do so.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:18 AM on September 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


DU - But when they are fighting against the Defense of Marriage Act, you have to wonder how long it'll be before some of them start asking "are we the bad guys".

Good point. I'm always fascinated by the thought of how divergent people's worldview and priorities can become. While, in principle, I understand how it happens (and that there are probably plenty of people in other cultures who would call me an extremist weirdo) I always find it slightly jarring to be reminded how far apart our worldviews can be.

I always get very conflicting impressions of China. Several of my colleagues are from various parts of China, and paint very different pictures of the country from each other (not surprising given how huge the country is) and from the British/American media. One hates the censorship, another says it's minor and necessary, another says he was never really aware of it. All are somewhat defensive about the subject, which is understandable given the pretty consistant negative portrayal of the state in British media.

The most interesting conversations about the country have been the ones I've had with people from Hong Kong. They tend to be very wary of China's growing influence over HK since the handover. Some of it is fairly pragmatic worries about losing the culture (e.g. moving from Cantonese and Traditional characters to Mandarin and Simplified characters), but there also seems to be a lot of worry about decreasing political freedom, individual rights, etc.

I should say that these are mostly people I know through work, so there's a pretty heavy selection bias toward people who are highly educated, internationally travelled and slightly left wing. It might not reflect the views of the wider population.
posted by metaBugs at 7:28 AM on September 9, 2009


Oh I know Pastabagel - not attempting to present the Chinese Internet as a space for free and open debate, which it quite obviously isn't - was making the point that if you make claims such as that - that there's no political debate, or that it's all clamped down on - it can obscure the more nuanced critique such as you present and be refuted by pointing to such debate as does exist.
posted by Abiezer at 7:30 AM on September 9, 2009


This handy infographic needs a big fat asterisk that leads to a big fat footnote: "except with the use of a proxy server." Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Wikipedia, HuffPo, YouTube and Flickr are blocked... except with the use of a proxy server. The words "Democracy," "Human Rights" and "Dictatorship" are blocked from search engines... except with the use of a proxy server. I wonder if there's anybody using the internet in China who doesn't know what a proxy server is by now.

In fact, if anybody in the west has an urge to see what it's like to browse the internet from China, they can do so by using a Chinese proxy server. I recommend it; it's interesting.

Also, Abiezer's right; the numbers look somewhat scary, but think about it: that infographic claims that China has 340 million internet users, and a whopping 40,000 'internet police' deleting comments and monitoring internet use. 40,000 is a huge number, and more 'internet police' surely than any other country in the world has; but that means that each 'internet policeperson' has to monitor eight and a half thousand people, and not just on one site but on every site on the internet, every day, through proxy servers and whatever other strange anonymizing gadgets people come up with daily. And there's an interesting note in the bottom corner that the government apparently tried some 'Green Dam Youth Project' where they did the only thing that could possibly have allowed them to track everybody's internet use (and even that is frankly questionable) - they mandated that certain software be included on every computer sold that allowed them to do so. What's interesting is that the note points out that this project lasted all of a month before it was abandoned; apparently the public pressure is high enough that the Chinese government knows it's pretty much a lost cause in certain areas.

I don't think the Chinese government is by any means innocent; but I do think that the firehose that is the internet is, interestingly enough, very naturally becoming freer and freer, and that anybody who tries to stop it becoming freer has an impossible task on their hands.
posted by koeselitz at 7:36 AM on September 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well, Pastabagel's right above about the general chilling effect and the main pernicious effect of censorship - I've argued the same elsewhere on here before - that it precludes much chance of Chinese people organising among themselves, which is far more serious than an inability to access overseas news (bad enough as that is).
posted by Abiezer at 7:42 AM on September 9, 2009


Pastabagel: And by requiring people to register with their true ID, it becomes very difficult to organize national opposition groups or protests in secret that people will be comfortable joining. It won't completely prevent national protests, but it will prevent the organizers from being able to leverage the power of the internet to do so.

I agree, but I don't think any of us should have illusions on this point: political bloggers and social activists in China who wish to discuss sensitive topics in secret, organize action, and exchange information aren't going to be posting on news sites in the first place—and they already found the right places for such discussion a long time ago. This kind of move by the government is a bandage on a gaping wound.
posted by koeselitz at 7:43 AM on September 9, 2009


It is dead. It's been dead for months now. All that's left is the arguing over what casket to put the body in. And even that argument is as partisan as hell. Oak? Cherry? Maybe just cremate the body?

What the hell are you talking about? All the relevant congressional committees have finished writing their bills, except for the finance committee, and it looks like Baucus is finally getting off his ass. So we will probably see the reconcilation process start within a month and have a final bill in another month or so. Now that bill could be defeated, but reform is far from "dead".

If you were expecting something like single payer, you weren't paying attention to the Dem primaries. Kucinich was the only one advocating for that and it turned out he didn't do to well.
posted by afu at 7:53 AM on September 9, 2009


woops, obviously posted in the wrong thread....

Though I do agree with pasta bagel. The surprising thing about internet debate in China is that it is usually about if the goverment actions are sufficiently pro china. For instance, was a huge amount of talk about the unrest in Xinjiang, but most of what I saw was complaining that the government didn't do enough to protect the Han who lived there.
posted by afu at 7:58 AM on September 9, 2009


Just registered a QQ account with no ID requested either - I'll be signed up to all the Internet rubbish in China at this rate. Then probably kicked off again tomorrow when this system does come in. Understand chat programs have been one of the places where organising has occurred as you can create closed groups and encrypt etc.
posted by Abiezer at 7:58 AM on September 9, 2009


and exchange information aren't going to be posting on news sites in the first place—and they already found the right places for such discussion a long time ago. This kind of move by the government is a bandage on a gaping wound.
posted by koeselitz at 10:43 AM on September 9


Maybe the political types, but there are probably thousands of would-be union organizers in factories where the workers toil in crappy conditions for the benefit of foreign investors and party apparatchiks. For them, they probably aren't familiar with the political underground sneakernet, and whose first place to turn to organize a march is a message board.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:00 AM on September 9, 2009


This kind of move by the government is a bandage on a gaping wound.

What gaping wound? It's not like there is any organized opposition to the government in China. From the ground it seems like they are doing a damn good job.
posted by afu at 8:06 AM on September 9, 2009


Funnily enough was just attempting to check Chuizi ("Worker's Hammer") where some sort of organising has been going on (in amongst the florid rhetoric) partly to offer an example of the debate that does happen, and now it's giving me the classic GFW time-out where it wasn't yesterday.
posted by Abiezer at 8:07 AM on September 9, 2009


Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Wikipedia, HuffPo, YouTube and Flickr are blocked... except with the use of a proxy server.

Do the Chinese allow https and public key cryptography? If so, do they attempt to do a man in the middle attack? There is software that actually does that for HTTP connections now, such as ettercap.

So, the Chinese could in theory mandate that ISPs allow them to do MTM attacks on all encrypted connections. They could also mandate that computer makers install root certificates that give them the right to spoof certificates, making the connections all look valid to your browser (You would need to manually check the certificate fingerprint). It probably wouldn't go without notice if they went that far.

But the point is, it would be possible to make using a proxy server difficult. Combined with making them illegal as well could dissuade most Chinese people from using them.
posted by delmoi at 8:48 AM on September 9, 2009


Pastabagel: Maybe the political types, but there are probably thousands of would-be union organizers in factories where the workers toil in crappy conditions for the benefit of foreign investors and party apparatchiks. For them, they probably aren't familiar with the political underground sneakernet, and whose first place to turn to organize a march is a message board.

True, and the big, up-front message should of course be: the Chinese Government needs to loosen restrictions right now. It's imperative. One can say that it's easy for activists to congregate in secret, but it's supposed to be possible for anyone to have a dialogue with anybody else about political things; and until it is, the people at large aren't really free.

delmoi: ... it would be possible to make using a proxy server difficult. Combined with making them illegal as well could dissuade most Chinese people from using them.

You're right - and you clearly know more about the logistics of it than I do; but the point to me is that they're not doing that. Apparently the Chinese Government is at cross-purposes, and knows that pretty much disabling the internet is an unworkable solution even as it would like to impose that kind of restriction. I suspect that they understand that cutting down the usefulness of the internet for 340 million people would have a significant economic impact, even beyond the cost of implementing that kind of control.

But, again, I don't have a high degree of technical knowledge of how all of this works, and I'd be interested to know (maybe from Abiezer) just how stringent control really is, or whether it really does extend no farther than the IP-address level.
posted by koeselitz at 8:57 AM on September 9, 2009


afu: What gaping wound? It's not like there is any organized opposition to the government in China. From the ground it seems like they are doing a damn good job.

I've seen and heard of Chinese blogs about politics which are far from censored. There are clearly people in China who are actively developing ways to get around government controls on internet use - and apparently succeeding. I'm not 'on the ground' in China, and I've never been there; nor do I claim that there is a massive movement against the government. But I do claim that, with a tiny amount of know-how and in less than five minutes, pretty much anybody on an internet connection in China can be 99% certain that they're browsing anonymously without government oversight and without being restricted. That's not an insignificant fact, although we clearly have a long way to go before speech is free in China.
posted by koeselitz at 9:02 AM on September 9, 2009


Not the world's most adept user of network technology myself, but HTTPS works, as does SSH tunnelling and other strategies and AFAIK public key cryptography too. In general due to the small number of determined censorship circumventers that involves they're content to let it slide at the moment is my impression, combined with what I strongly suspect is an ability to crack any of it if they're particularly targeting a person - most major states would have that I imagine and China's certainly not lacking for clever hackers.
The travails of the liberal blog portal Bullog.cn are one example of an ongoing battle with the censors.
posted by Abiezer at 9:10 AM on September 9, 2009


To continue my spamming of thread (it's obligatory for a Chinese net user) should have perhaps mentioned that one of the first things to appear after MMORPGS started requiring IDs (to prevent excessive time spent playing was the excuse) were programs that generate fake ID numbers, much like the sort of cracking software you used to get for license keys for warez. So I presume that would be there to aid continued anonymity for those desiring it. The points made at the end of the McKinnon piece I linked above are salient though: "Even without real-name registration it's not so hard for the police to track somebody down if they really want to - as long as that person isn't using an anonymity tool like Tor and being extremely careful about their general online security."
posted by Abiezer at 9:23 AM on September 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


I suspect that they understand that cutting down the usefulness of the internet for 340 million people would have a significant economic impact, even beyond the cost of implementing that kind of control.

There's also the fact that foreign businesspeople will start having meetings in countries where the Internet isn't purposely broken.
posted by oaf at 10:30 AM on September 9, 2009


But I do claim that, with a tiny amount of know-how and in less than five minutes, pretty much anybody on an internet connection in China can be 99% certain that they're browsing anonymously without government oversight and without being restricted. That's not an insignificant fact, although we clearly have a long way to go before speech is free in China.

That's all true, but it has been true for the last 10 years or so. Despite the fact that China has a very large web savvy population, there has been no significant opposition that has formed from this population. The CCP today is very different than the CCP 20 years ago, and they are willing to give their population a lot more freedom than before. But when they feel that any actions will threaten their position they will yank that freedom away, and they have developed the technology to do this very effectively on the internet.
posted by afu at 10:48 AM on September 9, 2009


"The reason China is doing this is to prevent any organization of people around viewpoints or ideas. China has learned that as long as the government is large enough and an immediate enough presence in people's lives, it doesn't matter ho people express themselves - they are just individuals venting." Sort of the way Mao and Long March comrades organized around the ideas of Marx and Lenin. They know how it starts and how ideas in sync with the historical moment trump repression.
posted by sundance1001 at 11:08 AM on September 9, 2009


there has been no significant opposition that has formed from this population

Afu, your definition of 'significant' is either ridiculously restrictive, or you really don't have any idea what you're talking about.

There is tonnes of opposition to the Chinese Government. Tonnes. That's just the most obvious, recent example but there are all kinds of activists, from ethnic, to provincial, class-based, union-based, immigration-based, religion-based, working at all different kinds of levels from riots and protests to advocacy or to aid.

Are you reading Xinhua for your CCP opposition news or something? Honestly. Just because you don't read about it doesn't mean it's not happening. In fact, it's happening more and more.
posted by smoke at 4:30 PM on September 9, 2009


Re-reading your comments, I see you were referring to internet users in the second, and the general population in the first. I think my point still stands on both counts, however, though not necessarily the examples I linked to.
posted by smoke at 5:21 PM on September 9, 2009


smoke: Afu, your definition of 'significant' is either ridiculously restrictive, or you really don't have any idea what you're talking about.

Dude, check the userpage: Afu is posting from China, at least according to her/him.
posted by koeselitz at 2:09 AM on September 10, 2009


Story (in Chinese) on People's Daily site today specifically refuting the NYT article's claims ('Has China quietly introduced a Real Name Internet registration system? The State Council Information Office Denies It'), but it's hardly a clear-cut picture; you end up with them on the one hand saying it's not a serious requirement but then that ID card number registration will be one requirement if you want to comment on news stories (as opposed to general forums etc), it's something that the government would like, but then there's all sorts of arguments still and many think implementation will be impossible.
Any road, you have this denial:

9月8日,《国际先驱导报》记者就上述报道向国新办求证,国新办工作人员明确回复说,外媒所报道的网络实名制不符合事实,“只是注册,不是实名制,这也是国际惯例”。这位工作人员补充说,网民在注册时可以用网名,仅是增加了一道注册环节,用来减少一些网民和机构发布不负责任的言论。“这是最官方的说法,”国新办这位工作人员向本报强调。

"On September 8 a reporter from the International Herald Leader asked an employee of the State Council Information Office if they could confirm [the NYT] report; their clear response was that the foreign media reports concerning a real name system are at odds with the facts. 'All that's required is registration, it's not a Real Name System.' The SCIO employee added that when registering Internet users could use an online alias, all that was new was adding a registration process as a way of reducing instances of certain web users and agencies publishing irresponsible speech.'This is the most official position,' the SCIO employee emphasised to our reporter."

Later in the piece they quote someone described as an insider at one of the main portals:

国内一家颇具影响力的主流网站人士向本报记者透露,按照通知要求,所有网站都需要实行注册制。但实际上目前仅限于时政类新闻留言板、论坛,生活类的并没有执行注册制,注册可以用网名。

  至于有些网站在注册时有“填写身份证件号码”一栏,这位负责人透露,这只是一个形式,随意填写一个号码即可注册成功,因为网站系统并未与公安部的身份证查询系统联接。

"A person from one of the more influential domestic Internet portals revealed to our reporter that according to the requirements set out in the [government] circular all websites must implement a registration system, but this is in practice currently limited to comments on current affairs news articles and forums; no registration system is in place for general lifestyle and living forums; an Internet alias can be used for registration.
As for certain websites having a field where you must 'fill in your national ID card number', the Internet portal manager said this was a matter of form only - you could fill this in with any series of numbers and still register successfully, because there was no link between the websites and the Ministry of Public Security's system for checking ID numbers."

That bit in the first quoted sentence '都需要实行注册制' would imply that this is a registration rather than real name system but can't say I'm much clearer. Not sure I can be bothered with more attempted sign-ups to check this out, expect things will become clearer over the next few days.
posted by Abiezer at 2:23 AM on September 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


koeselitz, I don't think that necessarily denotes a good awareness of what's happening there.
posted by smoke at 4:53 PM on September 10, 2009


Just tried again to comment on a Sina story (news that the women's volley ball team lost in the Asia final to Thailand) and there was a field for an ID card number - said student or military would do as well as national ID. As per story, entered a random string of numbers (to go with the fake name) and signed up fine.
posted by Abiezer at 4:59 PM on September 14, 2009


smoke: koeselitz, I don't think that necessarily denotes a good awareness of what's happening there.

Yeah, I talked to a friend of mine who lived in China for a while, and her response was: "anybody living in China who believes that there's no opposition to the government amongst the population is either a student or a tourist."

Even if she hadn't said that, I've been leaning toward the sense that summarily declaring that you know precisely what's being talked about amongst 340 million people and that you know without doubt that absolutely none of the conversation is concerning the government's repressiveness seems a bit... hasty.
posted by koeselitz at 6:34 PM on September 14, 2009


So, afu: on what evidence exactly do you predicate your fairly bold statement that there has been no significant opposition to the government amongst the Chinese people on the internet?
posted by koeselitz at 6:35 PM on September 14, 2009


Hacker ships tool to circumvent China's Green Dam filter
posted by homunculus at 4:31 PM on September 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Chinese hackers launch targeted attacks against foreign correspondents
posted by homunculus at 4:12 PM on October 1, 2009


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