China asks businesses to help it censor the web

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Chinese authorities have roped in businesses to help them stiffen their stranglehold on online information.

According to The New York Times, Web police units began sending out directives to businesses — some of which are joint ventures involving American companies — “to log the traffic of hundreds or thousands of computers, block selected Web sites, and connect with local police servers”.

It is believed that the initiative was an attempt to ramp up the control of information prior to the ruling Communist Party’s recent elective conference. It may also however have been part of a bid to close up gaps in the country’s Great Firewall.

“It goes this way pretty much every time there’s some big political event in Beijing: the DVDs are gone, the prostitutes are gone, and the Internet’s slower,” said David van Meerendonk, an American who operates an information technology company in China told the New York Times. “They’re struggling to find a balancing point.”

China’s departing leader Hu Jintao gave no indication that things might be more relaxed under his successors. “We should strengthen social management of the Internet and promote standardized and orderly network operation,” he said.

Among the hardware companies were told to install was a monitoring system. Security experts have however warned that it could expose their systems to espionage from the Chinese government.

“This box, in addition to being able to monitor any queries about Tiananmen Square or Tibet or the Dalai Lama, also would be able to intercept all network communications from the China operations back to headquarters,” said Thomas Parenty, an information security consultant for foreign companies in China.

A number of companies and individuals in the country use virtual private networks (VPNs) for security. A side-effect of these networks is that they allow people to access sites that are ordinarily blocked in China.

Authorities are likely aware of these and are looking to curb any activity on non-approved sites.

Some businesses reportedly engaged in quiet rebellion, while others said that the enforcement was superficial at best.

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