Created on: December 30, 2012 Last Updated: December 31, 2012
The Internet and all the freedom of communication that it brings along with it has long been a thorn in the Chinese Communist Party’s side. Attempts have been made in the past to block certain sites, or to block key search terms. For example, during the Government-thwarted Chinese ‘Jasmine’ protests in 2011, the word ‘jasmine’ was blocked from Sina Weibo, a popular micro-blogging site. At the same time, some Chinese users experienced difficulty accessing key websites, such as Gmail.
Twitter is also strictly monitored. According to the BBC, some 35 million people access Twitter from inside China, but they can only do so by bypassing the official firewall set by the Government. Just a few weeks ago, around the time of the Communist Party 18th National Congress, a Chinese Twitter user was arrested for criticising the Chinese Government, sparking a petition by hundreds of web users for his release. His crime was comparing the National Congress to the horror film, Final Destination.
It is unclear exactly how the Chinese authorities managed to trace the Twitter user, although a number of other Twitter users have been arrested for similar crimes. Theoretically, non-Chinese websites like Twitter do not have to hand over the IP addresses of its users, unlike domestic sites, but the arrested Twitter user did not use his real name and was still traced.
In order to prevent people from voicing criticism of the Chinese Government, it has now approved new rules that will require Internet users to register their real names, as well as ensuring that Internet sites monitor online content. The official explanation is quite different though, claiming to be to: “ensure Internet information security, safeguard the lawful rights and interests of citizens, legal entities or other organizations and safeguard national security and social public interests.”
The Government has also claimed that these measures are being put in place to protect the general public against scare-mongering, citing a case in which four people were killed in a car accident after they fled from a chemical plant explosion reported on the Internet.
According to the Voice of America website, Chinese users have already been vocal in protesting against the forced registration, claiming that it will curtail their human rights and the outing of political scandals. For example, videos of a local official having sex with a young girl were recently aired online, leading to his eventual arrest. Without Internet freedom, however, crimes are far less likely to be reported for fear of retribution.
It may be that once the dust of the new leadership has settled, the new regulations will relax for a while, at least until the next big political issue comes along. Certainly, with some 538 million Chinese Internet users, more than double the total amount in the US, it will be hard to monitor every single one. Then again, anyone who has experienced the wrath of the Chinese Government will know what a risk voicing concerns could be, especially if real names are readily available.
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