China Authorities Battle Hard to Tighten the Web

LA Times (requires regsitration):
China Authorities Battle Hard to Tighten the Web:

…The second approach uses technology to limit citizens’ ability to view what the government considers objectionable.

In recent months, China has become far savvier in this area, experts say. It wasn’t too long ago that it had to block an entire overseas website containing objectionable material, with questionable results. While blocking the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s site prevented Chinese citizens from accessing encryption programs, for instance, it also frustrated future government engineers trying to apply to the institution.

Now Beijing can block access to a single page, or to links it finds objectionable.

“It sounds easy, but it’s been a deep technological problem,” said Ben Edelman with Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

The firewalls around China require users seeking access to the rest of the Internet to go through a limited number of gateways controlled and monitored by Beijing. China also has improved its ability to divert or hijack requests for sensitive information, redirecting them to harmless sites or “timing out” the request. It’s also better able to block sites that constantly change their Web addresses, a tool used in the past to keep one step ahead of censors.

“With new technology, they’re now upgrading their system within a couple of months,” said Bill Xia, president of Dynamic Internet Technology, a U.S. company that develops technology to circumvent China’s filters. “They probably have to go through approvals, but I’m rather impressed by their speed.”

There are limits to the technology, however. You can’t block everything. So China has invested heavily in an expanded cyber police force that scours the Web looking for new sites to block, monitoring bulletin boards and identifying “undesirables.” Online rumor puts China’s cyber police at 30,000.

“That’s just a number,” said Michael Iannini, Beijing-based general manager with Nicholas International Consulting Services. “The point is they have a lot of people doing what they do to make sure you can’t do it.”

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