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China tightens its control over the Internet


January 27, 2000
Web posted at: 7:59 a.m. HKT (2359 GMT)

In this story:

Web sites face "Major challenge"

Economic potential at odds with security fears


BEIJING -- The Chinese government is taking new steps to control the content of Internet Web sites.

Under rules published in the People's Daily, Web sites are required to undergo security checks to make sure they aren't "leaking state secrets."

The regulations appear to give authorities a powerful instrument of control over the Internet in the name of protecting sensitive government information.

"All organizations and individuals are forbidden from releasing, discussing or transferring state secret information on bulletin boards, chat rooms or in Internet news groups," the State Bureau of Secrecy announced in the rules carried in the Communist Party's flagship daily.

"Any Web site that provides or releases information on the World Wide Web must undergo security checks and approval," the rules state. Web sites -- and any organization with computer links to the Internet -- which failed to safeguard against security breaches could be shut down.

State secrets, under China's definition, can mean virtually any information not specifically approved for publication.

A number of journalists have been jailed for the crime of leaking state secrets; opponents of the Communist Party have also been targeted.

Web sites face "Major challenge"

The Shanghai Daily said the State Press and Publication Administration was crafting rules on content that would pose a "major challenge" for domestic Web sites.

"It is certain that no Web sites will be allowed to hire cyber reporters to write stories for them," the newspaper quoted Wu Youzhang, an official with the administration, as saying.

He declined to reveal more details, and it was unclear who would be considered "cyber reporters."

Many of China's top Web sites and portals give splashy treatment to reports on sports, entertainment and travel written not by hired journalists but by thousands of visitors to their sites, some of whom are paid.

"I don't think news will be completely banned from the web sites," the newspaper quoted Ma Xin, general manager of Shanghai Golden Net Information Service Co, as saying. "What the government really wants is to curb unauthorized news."

China has yet to publish regulations governing Internet content, partly because it lacks legal experience in the area.

Economic potential at odds with security fears

Authorities are anxious not to smother the Internet, keenly aware that new information technology is key to China's economic future. Yet they fear an information free-flow which could threaten communist control.

China's Internet industry is growing at a dramatic rate, with the number of users jumping from two million to at least six million over the last year.

Some major international companies, including Intel, IBM, and Yahoo! have already made substantial investments in Chinese Web sites, despite government restrictions on outside investments.

Analysts said government ministries were divided on the issue of controlling Internet content, with security-related ministries arguing for more controls and economic ministries pressuring for greater openness.

Content in the traditional media of newspapers, radio and television is strictly supervised. Communist Party officials occupy key editorial positions to ensure party policy and ideology is upheld.

Police in Shanghai this month told corporate Internet users to register as part of a nationwide drive to increase control over the Web.

The city's Public Security Bureau placed an advertisement in a local newspaper and at least one district issued a directive ordering companies using the Internet to register with police by January 30.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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