Tuesday, December 22, 2009

China's MIIT seeks to tighten censorship

China is stepping up its campaign against pornography on the Internet , but it has raised concern it is merely an excuse to further control the web. As part of its latest crackdown, the China Internet Network Information Center, known as CNNIC, a semiofficial office that administers China's domain names, has said it will tighten oversight of Chinese domain-name registrations. Already new registrants of domain-names with China's ".cn" suffix are required to show proof they are a government-registered business or organization. It effectively makes it harder for individuals to set up domestic Web sites. [WSJ / Shanghaiist]

The Beijing News has given a deeper insight to the new restrictions and how they may even affect website outside of China. The 22nd December edition reports on the full notice released by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), which is framed as a campaign against the proliferation of pornography on mobile devices.

The MIIT notice lists five measures for domain name management. The first measure suggests that a blacklist be drawn up "to prevent the owners of domain names found to be in violation from applying for additional domain names." The second calls for a tightening of the registration procedures "to ensure that all application documents are accurate." The third point is the most concerning however. It says that "Unregistered domain names will not be resolved."

Danwei reports that domestic websites are usually registered with MIIT, but because some of them were in existence before the establishment of the registration system, some websites have not registered. Many foreign domain names have not registered with MIIT. Domain-name resolution may be blocked for these websites, so access from China will be endangered.

Even Beijing News acknowledges a problem may exist for otherwise law-abiding sites. "It will be regrettable if law-abiding overseas websites, part of the world-linking Internet, are inaccessible because they have not filed with MIIT," the paper states. If carried out in full, the new MIIT measures will effectively set up a white-list of accessible sites. Any overseas website that does not submit the appropriate paperwork with a Chinese government agency may well find itself cut off from mainland China.

China's anti-pornography campaign, initiated in August this year, has involved multiple government bodies and state-owned companies including China Mobile Ltd., the country's biggest telecommunications carrier. The crackdown has shutdown thousands of Chinese Internet sites and hundreds more sites viewed by cellphone. Authorities also have begun offering rewards for tips leading to more closures.

Large sites, including Google's Chinese site and Alibaba Group's Yahoo China site have been publicly accused by authorities of facilitating the spread of vulgar content. Both companies made adjustments to their sites after the allegations, without admitting wrongdoing. Earlier in the year there were even restrictions made on the use of language posted on the Internet. Profanity was effectively banned by filters which prevented the posting of such Chinese characters.

The action resulted in an unusual reaction by some Chinese Internet users; the invention of a fictitious animal. The Grass Mud Horse, as it was called, became an instant hit and a symbol of protest against Internet censorship. The animal's name in Chinese, Cao Ni Ma [草泥马], has a similar pronunciation to "Fuck Your Mother" [�你妈]. But due to different characters being employed it passed Internet filters and censoring.

It even spawned a video and song which soon became viral [France 24 / Times]. The phenomena is believed to be partly instrumental in bringing about a block on the video-sharing website YouTube. Nonetheless,  the Grass Mud Horse has only become all the more popular. There are even plush toys and a mobile phone game born out of the Internet meme.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

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