Civil Liberties

Great Firewall of China

War on cybercafé society


Communist Party doctrine may be evolving, but the Chinese government recently renewed its commitment to a time-honored practice: censorship. Long famous for building firewalls to keep its citizens "protected" from foreign Web sites, the government now has begun to close down public cybercafés –the only access most Chinese have to the Internet. Since a June fire in an illicit, locked-door cybercafé in Beijing killed more than two dozen people, the Chinese government has closed down 150,000 such shops across the country.

The government has allowed a few cafés in Beijing to reopen, but they are strictly regulated. Owners have to pledge not to spread information that might be against the interests of Chinese state security and stability. They also can't operate near schools, where a younger generation hungry for information from the outside world could be easily corrupted. Cybercafé customers are required to use special ID cards encoded with personal information so the state can keep track of who's accessing what. The monitoring is meant to instill caution: A Beijing man was sentenced to 11 years in prison for downloading verboten political content.

The Chinese government isn't able to accomplish this high-tech censorship alone. It needs Western technology –technology supplied by such U.S. firms as Cisco, Nortel Networks, and Yahoo! A November article in Red Herring reports that the Chinese information crackdown may prompt the U.S. Congress to pressure American firms not to do business in surveillance and firewall technologies with China.