WSJ: China Finds New Ways to Restrict Access to the Internet (subscription required)
The Wall Street Journal has published an article discussing various ways Chinese authorities censor the Internet. Several of the techniques, such as blocking Google's cache and filtering key words on Google searches, have been known for some time (see CECC 2003 Annual Report, p. 39). Other techniques discussed in the WSJ article include a list of banned words and phrases such as "freedom" and "democracy" that the Chinese company Tencent embeds in desktop software to filter messaging among PCs and cellphones. A complete list of the words is available from the China Digital News.
China Finds New Ways To Restrict Access To the Internet By CHARLES HUTZLER Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL September 1, 2004; Page B1 BEIJING -- The phalanx of barriers China uses to block access to dissenting views on the Internet is growing in sophistication and reach, stretching from network nerve centers to home desktop computers. China's Internet police are using a filtering technology to, in effect, disable a popular feature of the search engine Google, according to a team of researchers at Cambridge, Harvard and Toronto universities. The feature taps into snapshots of Web pages stored on Google's servers -- which are based outside China -- and was once a common way for Chinese to view sites that were otherwise blocked. Separately, a research project at the University of California, Berkeley, found a list of banned words and phrases that a Chinese company embeds in desktop software to filter messaging among PCs and cellphones. Among the more than 1,000 taboo terms: "democracy," "sex" and "Hu Jintao," China's president. Added together, these reports are helping to flesh out the shape of what critics have dubbed "the Great Firewall of China" and show how successful China has been in bringing to heel the Internet, which was once championed abroad as an unruly marketplace of ideas that would promote free expression. The communist government has jailed people for disseminating politically critical views, in part to serve as a warning to other Web users. But it has never publicly disclosed its policing methods; the Ministry of Public Security, the agency in charge of supervising the Internet, said yesterday it couldn't comment on its monitoring and the assertions in the foreign research reports. Now, with groups of researchers outside China probing for cracks in the firewall, a clearer picture is emerging. "They're using a variety of methods. It isn't just one approach," says Jonathan Zittrain of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School. For the first line of defense, Chinese police focus on the backbone networks that undergird the Internet in China, Mr. Zittrain and other members of his research project say. Routers that connect the networks are encoded with the unique numerical addresses for the Web sites China deems objectionable, blocking, for example, purveyors of uncensored news, such as the BBC's Chinese and English news sites, and some Chinese Web sites based overseas. To further plug holes, new filtering technology operated presumably by government authorities combs messages on the Internet, searching for objectionable words, the researchers say. With this method, e-mails can be lost in Chinese cyberspace and never reach their destinations, and requests to search engines, which provide lists of Web sites based on words, can go unanswered, foreign and Chinese researchers say.