This article first appeared at The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Monday, September 23rd, 2013:
The ink on the new internet censorship diktat from the Chinese internet police was hardly dry when it was able to claim its first criminal: a teenager who made the mistake of expressing his opinion about a police investigation of a karaoke bar owner who was so badly beaten that he committed suicide by jumping off the building where he was being held. This was a threat that simply had to be quelled. Under the new “gossip” rule, no one is allowed to spread rumors or defame people, even if they are thugs. Especially if the thugs happen to be the police.
In China there is no “separation of powers” and so the China Supreme Court issued the new ruling and the punishment for its violation: if such a message containing illegal comments is forwarded more than 500 times or is read more than 5,000 times, the punishment is three years in jail. Here’s how laws are made in China. From the court came this:
Society has demanded serious punishment for … using the internet to spread rumors and defame people. No country would consider libel to be “freedom of speech.”
I doubt that “society” has “demanded” any such thing. In China, individuals count for nothing, and contrary opinions aren’t welcome.
This ruling grew out of a “white paper” issued by the communist regime back in June 2010:
Laws and regulations clearly prohibit the spread of information that contains content subverting state power, undermining national unity [or] infringing upon national honor and interests….
The state is everything, individuals are nothing. Anything that threatens the state is to be punished, publicly and severely. As a channel of expression, the internet must be controlled. The paper explained:
Within Chinese territory the internet is under the jurisdiction of Chinese sovereignty. [It] should be respected and protected.
It, consequently, must be controlled.
China’s control of the internet began at the very beginning of the internet age. In February 1994 the communist regime recognized the potential threat of untrammeled freedom of expression, especially among a billion unhappy subjects. So control of the internet was given to the Ministry of Public Security. Two years later, all ISPs were required to be licensed by the state, and all internet traffic was required to be routed through the state’s networks. There are four, so you have freedom of choice: ChinaNet, GBNet, CERNET, or CSTNET.
In 1997 regulations were issued that defined the parameters of the conversations allowed regarding “harmful information” and “harmful activities” that might damage state interests. By 2000, all ISPs could only link to overseas news web sites that had been previously approved by the state.
But China needed help with the technology. And so they turned to – where else? – Cisco Systems, which was only too happy to supply China with some 200 massive servers to keep those potential terrorists in line. This created, according to Greg Walton of the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development,
A massive, ubiquitous architecture of surveillance … to integrate a gigantic online database with an all-encompassing surveillance network – incorporating speech and face recognition, closed-circuit television, smart cards, credit records, and [other] internet surveillance technologies.
After all, the Chinese couldn’t afford to fall behind the US in its drive to suppress, threaten, and imprison its subjects. This is now called the Great Firewall of China.
And so began the long parade of arrests, convictions, and punishments. In 2001, Wang Ziaoning went to jail for 10 years for using his Yahoo email account to post anonymous messages to an internet mailing list. In 2004, Shi Tao was arrested and sentenced to 10 years for “illegally providing state secrets to foreign entities.” His crime? He discovered a government order to downplay any mention of the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests, and summarized it in an email to people outside the country.
In 2008, Liu Shaokun was sentenced to one year in a “re-education” camp, which included hard labor for “inciting a disturbance” over the internet. His crime: he posted some photos of collapsed school buildings that had killed some students, along with sympathetic comments addressed to the grieving parents.
But the desire of citizens to express themselves freely has led to a massive cottage industry in China: punching holes in the Great Fire Wall. It seems that technology is keeping ahead of the state. In local coffee shops, entrepreneurs who know their way around such things as VPN (virtual private networks) and SSH (secure shell networks) and rogue encryption software programs like Ultrasurf are charging a dollar an hour to set up such workarounds to serve those among the 600 million Chinese with internet access who want to speak freely.
And it’s driving the Chinese internet police crazy. Two weeks ago, the editor of the China Digital Times was being interviewed on (of all places!) NPR:
Despite all the control and monitoring of the government, there’s a fundamental desire of the people who simply want to express themselves. And if they cannot speak directly, they will speak in alternative ways….
[The] government doesn’t have full control of the online political discussion … this harsh censorship reflects the government’s increasing anxiety that they have lost that control….
The free market is messy but indefatigable. It will find ways around censorship obstacles. The software treats censorship as a cancer and creates new pathways around it. Even Chinese Premier Deng Xiaoping predicted that this would happen back when he unleashed the economy: “If you open the window for fresh air, you have to expect some flies to blow in.”
May their numbers increase.
The New York Times: Crackdown on Bloggers Is Mounted by China
The New York Times: China Toughens Its Restrictions on Use of the Internet
National Public Radio: In China, Avoiding The ‘Great Firewall’ Internet Censors