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October 08 2013

Southeast Asia: Dictatorships Are Gone, But Censorship Hangs On

An anti-Lese Majeste law protest in Thailand. Photo by Matthew Richards, Copyright @Demotix (12/10/2011)

An anti-Lese Majeste law protest in Thailand. Photo by Matthew Richards, Copyright @Demotix (12/10/2011)

Since the late 20th century, many Southeast Asian countries have moved from military dictatorships and unelected governments to representative governance systems. While these transitions have brought many improvements to national law and government accountability, certain old ways still remain.

Both off and online, censorship is still enforced in several countries through the use of draconian laws and strict media regulation. Media groups have consistently decried certain controversial laws and regulations as tools of media repression in Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore, and Myanmar.

Vietnam: Mass persecution of political bloggers

Thirty-five political bloggers are currently in prison in Vietnam. Continuing persecution suffered by bloggers and dissidents has highlighted the urgent need to reform laws that govern speech and online content in Vietnam.

Article 88 of the Criminal Code, which bans anti-state propaganda, is often used to detain individuals who oppose the government. Article 258 of the Criminal Code punishes misuse of “democratic freedoms to attack state interests and the legitimate rights and interests of collectives and individuals” and carries a sentence of seven years in prison. Last year, the nation's Prime Minister issued a directive ordering a crackdown on “reactionary” blogs. Broadly speaking, vague provisions in the law allow authorities to make arbitrary arrests with little structure for accountability.

Early this month, Decree 72 took effect, putting into force a law that many activists have described as the country's harshest legal offensive against freedom of information. The new regulation bans the sharing of news stories or so-called “compiled information”. But the government claims it is intended only to protect intellectual property.

“press card” system frequently is used to control mainstream media. Former journalist Pham Doan Trang explains further:

No card, no access. Without a press card, reporters can't hope to meet high-ranking officials, visit contacts at public offices or cover official conferences.

The State doesn't need to kill journalists to control the media because by and large, Vietnam's press card-carrying journalists are not allowed to do work that is worth being killed for.

Thailand: Insult the king, go to jail

Thailand's most notorious media regulation is practiced through Article 112 of the country’s Criminal Code, known as the lese majeste law, which forbids anyone from insulting the king and members of the royal family.

It is described by many commentators as one of the world’s “harshest” speech laws as it carries a minimum mandatory sentence of three years imprisonment and a maximum sentence of 15 years for a single offense. The law is often invoked to censor web content and shut down websites. Aside from webmasters and editors, even ordinary citizens have been jailed for allegedly sending mobile phone text messages that insult the royal family.

Legal scholars from Thammasat University have argued that the law needs to be amended:

…the section provides no exemption for criticism, the expression of opinion or the expression of statements that are made in good faith and in order to uphold the Constitution and democratic system of government.

The Philippines: Threat of libel charges looms large

In the Philippines, the anti-cybercrime law imposes both direct and indirect threats to free expression, but the country's criminal libel law may be the government's worst threat to free expression overall.

Under the country’s 83-year-old Revised Penal Code, libel is a criminal offense that mandates a prison term of six months to six years and/or a fine of 200 to 6,000 pesos (about 5 to 140 US dollars). But the fine is often much higher for those arrested. Veteran journalist Luis Teodoro has noted that “the law against libel has primarily been used to suppress free expression rather than to address media abuse.”

As an alternative to criminalizing defamation in the country, media advocates have proposed a broad campaign for public media literacy and self-regulation to check and expose media abuses.

Singapore: Media licenses and overt censorship

Singapore's new licensing scheme for news websites was quickly denounced by netizens as a censorship measure. Under the new rule, news websites that report on Singapore and have 50,000 unique IP views per month must secure a license and post a “performance bond” of 50,000 US dollars.

The government also maintains strict control of mainstream media. After working for three years as sub-editor in a leading Singapore newspaper, Mark Fenn exposed how censorship is enforced in the country:

Control at the paper is exercised both overtly and through more subtle means. Self-censorship, meanwhile, is ubiquitous.

…it was not uncommon for reporters to alter their stories at a very late stage because the “newsmaker” or a government department wanted to alter the wording of a quote or headline.

Myanmar: Legacy of censorship lingers on

In Myanmar, several media reforms were instituted in recent years, such as the dissolution of the censorship board, but the lingering effects of censorship are still felt and indirectly enforced. Hard-hitting journalists continue to face defamation charges and other harassment suits. The government is also accused of deliberately preventing the improvement of Internet connections in the country in an effort to control the spread of critical information.

The media situation in these Southeast Asian nations proves that political and economic reforms do not necessarily translate into greater media freedoms. Lawmakers who continue to preserve and promote archaic policies that undermine free expression must be held accountable their actions.

February 05 2013

Chinese Hackers Spy on Journalists to Track Whistleblowers

On January 2012, the New York Times reported that its news room's computers were constantly attacked by Chinese hackers. Shortly afterwards, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post also reported that they were targeted by Chinese hackers. The story is familiar to Chinese journalists, who, together with citizen reporters from mainland China, are very vulnerable to hacking and online harassment compared to their peers overseas.

This is not new for Hong Kong journalists either, who have to put up with daily surveillance of their computers at work.

To shed some light on the surveillance practices against journalists in China, Hong Kong-based online news portal The House News interviewed [zh] Cable TV China desk reporter, Lui Ping-Kuen.

The Chinese government has denied all the accusations about its involvement in hacking activities. Photo from flickr user Futurist CC: AT-NC.

The Chinese government has denied all the accusations about its involvement in hacking activities. Photo from flickr user Futurist CC: AT-NC.

Lui affirms that the hacking of email accounts is very common among journalists. “[O]nce the email account of a colleague of mine was hacked and that account sent out virus emails to all its contacts,” he recounts.

SMS text messages are also under tight surveillance. According to Lui, his interview arrangement was exposed because of a Whatsapp message. He also says that the contacts in his mobile phone were collected by the police after he was detained at a mainland China police station. He also explains that quite often, the conversation between two persons would be disrupted because of mobile surveillance.

The most terrifying experience for Lui was back in 2007 when he was helping to set up a news room in Shanghai, eastern China. “[W]e went out for a meal and when we came back, something was wrong: the windows and the light [appeared to have been disturbed] and we discovered later that the settings of three computers had been changed.”

In order to protect their sources, journalists do not use email and mobile for communication. Instead they use public phones and talk face-to-face with whistleblowers in often secret meeting places. They would not even take their mobiles along with them in meetings for fear of being tracked.

In the past few days, the Twitter accounts of many mainland Chinese independent reporters were hacked. This prompted Twitter to reset the passwords of many Chinese journalists. Twitter also sent out a notice in which it explained the following (via Deng Zhixin, a reporter from the Chinese magazine Sun Affair):

This attack was not the work of amateurs, and we do not believe it was an isolated incident. The attackers were extremely sophisticated, and we believe other companies and organizations have also been recently similarly attacked. For that reason we felt that it was important to reset your password and publicize this attack while we still gather information. We are also helping government and federal law enforcement in their effort to find and prosecute these attackers to make the Internet safer for all users.

Compared to their peers overseas, independent Chinese citizen reporters are very vulnerable. Many of them have to endure regular “tea sessions” (unwarranted police interrogations) with internal security police officers. If they refuse to expose their information sources, it is often the case that the police finds excuse to arrest them.

The latest case is related to a sex-tape scandal, which has resulted in the sacking of 10 party officials. The video, showing Chongqing officials having sexual relations with young girls, was first uploaded on the internet by investigative journalist Zhu Ruifenghas. Zhu was later “visited” by Chongqing police. It is believed that the police wanted to get hold of the original video storage disks so as to track the digital footprints and dig out the information source. But thanks to the military history of Zhu's family and a widespread online support the police was forced to back off.

January 19 2013

South Korea: How to Regain Ownership of the Internet

On January 11, 2012, Network Neutrality Forum (ko), an alliance of South Korean Internet freedom-concerned civic organizations, hosted a public workshop at the Konkuk University in Seoul, South Korea, to address concerns over waning civic participation in global Internet governance.

Internet policy expert and lawyer Borami Kim moderated the whole event and Professor Dongman Lee, from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), one of the early participants in Korean Internet governance, joined as a main speaker. The panel also included Eung Hwi Chon, a seasoned Internet civic activist at the Green Consumer's Network, and Jae Yeon Kim, an activist and member of Creative Commons Korea and Global Voices Online.

Lawyer Borami Kim. Photo by Jinbonet (CC BY)

The inconvenient truth about Internet governance

During his lecture, Professor Dongman Lee emphasized what he called the inconvenient truth about Internet governance: “Many people are tempted to believe that the cyberspace is a de facto level-playing field,” he says, “but that is hardly the truth.” At least at the level of Internet critical infrastructure resources, such as domain names and Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, the controversies regarding who controls the net are the more conspicuous. In recent years, many nations, especially emerging powers such as Russia and China, have constantly challenged the U.S. control of the roots of the Internet. The U.S., on the other hand, have faced difficulty balancing their global leadership with their so-called national interest. These unresolved problems were demonstrated quite vividly in recent global public debates, especially during the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) held in Dubai in late 2012.

Although the Internet was not directly mentioned in the WCIT final resolution, Pr. Lee warned of the potential implications of Article 5A which deals with security problems on the network. As a technology expert, he warned that this particular clause in the final WCIT document may bring about problems in terms of global filtering of the free flow of information. He asserted that such scenario will be fatal for the future healthy growth of the Internet as a liberating medium for all.

Professor Dongman Lee from KAIST. Photo by Jinbonet (CC BY)

How net regulations hindered Korean civil society's participation in global internet governance

Eung Hwi Chon's presentation followed Professor Lee's lecture an was more focused on how South Korean net regulations have hindered Korean civil society's participation in global Internet governance. He stressed that initially Korean civil society had been responsible for the management of distributing domain names and IP addresses. For example, from 1986 to 1994, KAIST lab—the birth place of Korean Internet where Professor Kilnam Chon led his group of students including Professor Lee to pioneer the Internet in Asia—had managed Internet governance in Korea. As a matter of fact, that trend had been consistent from 1986 to 2004.

However, Korean government intervened in this self-regulating Internet governance environment in 2004 by establishing the Internet Address Resource Law (in Korean “인터넷주소자원법”). The law empowered the Korean government which was then able to distribute domain names and collect commission fees without a sufficient auditory structure.

Korean civil society has no say as to how that money is used. Government monopoly over domain name distribution in South Korea has brought about a lack of transparency and accountability. Furthermore, an opaque decision-making culture is prevalent in the Korean information communication technology (ICT) industry, making the market resiliently oligarchic. It is no surprise then, that in terms of revenue, Korea Telecom (KT) has dominated almost half (49.3%) of Korean Internet backbone market in 2010.

Activist Eung Hwi Chon. Photo by Jinbonet (CC BY)

How can transnational activism keep the Internet free 

In his presentation, Jae Yeon Kim raised the question of what a multistakeholder approach, as a governing principle of Internet-related resources, really means and how it can work.

He started by noting that from the very first years of Internet development, the format of public discussions on the Internet has been persistently bottom-up, consensus-based and transparent. This approach, also known as multistakeholderism, has not changed up to date. The Internet Governance Forum (IGF), the venue for global discussions on Internet governance, and even the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), are adopting the multistakeholder approach as a basic principle and a globally accepted norm.

Nevertheless, the tricky part of multistakeholderism is its implementation. Bringing individuals and organizations who have diverse interests and norms in the same room does not guarantee they will come up with a better idea.

In South Korea, there is a tradition of perverting the idea altogether: the government usually uses experts and cherry-picked civil society members to legitimize a quasi clandestine decision making process. The government often invites those who are in favor of its policy proposals. This is far from the spirit of multistakeholderism. Therefore, Kim insisted that not only appearance but substance counts in Internet governance processes. He proposed that the principles of transparency and accountability be compulsory for Internet policy-related decision-making processes in South Korea.

Kim also stressed the fact that fighting against net control within South Korea is not enough. Since the Internet is a global communication system, isolationism cannot guarantee the victory. A local net control system can rapidly become a global filtering system. Therefore, transnational activism advocating Internet freedom can be an answer to create a counterweight against the forces trying to control the free flow of information. We are now only seeing the beginning of Internet freedom-related transnational activism. How that social movement will become institutionalized in domestic and international settings still is largely unknown.

Activist Jae Yeon Kim. Photo by Jinbonet (CC BY)

In the follow-up discussion, the attendees from Korean online service providers such as NHNDaum Communications, and SK Planet, and government agencies, such as Korea Communications Commission (KCC) and Korea Internet Security & Agency, and other civic activists shared their diverse opinions on the problems of Korean Internet governance and the ways to solve those problems and achieve higher goals.

January 09 2013

China: Google's Quiet Withdrawal of Censorship Warning Raises Questions

According to Greatfire.org, sometime between 5 and 8 December, 2012, Google quietly removed a feature that had informed users from mainland China of censored keywords. The “help article” which explained how to use the feature was also removed. A Google spokesman in Japan confirmed to Bloomberg that the feature has been disabled but declined to comment further.

A number of mainland Chinese netizens have suggested a parallel between Google's change of policy and its new business partnership with Qihoo 360. Since Google stopped abiding by Chinese government censorship demands in the Spring of 2010, some of its major business partners in China have suspended their business relations with it under pressure from the Chinese government. For example Sina Weibo stopped using Google's search engine in March 2011. The recent cooperation between Google and Qihoo 360 is therefore seen by online commentators as a possible shift in Google's business dealings with China.

Qihoo is originally an antivirus software and a web-browser company. In August last year it entered the search engine business in rivalry with Baidu, the biggest search engine in China. The news about the Google-Qihoo partnership was reported in the China Daily and picked up by the Chinese Government's official website on January 7, 2013.

Google's censorship warning feature was introduced in May of 2012 to improve users' search experience. Since spring 2010, all searches from its mainland Chinese search engine, google.cn, were redirected to its uncensored Hong Kong-based Chinese language search engine, google.hk. However, Google searches made by users in mainland China can still be blocked through the user's Internet service provider by the Chinese government's own online censorship system, known as the Great Fire Wall—a system over which Google has no control.

Because this filtering system results in a connection reset which disrupts the user's Internet connection, the warning box feature was designed to alert mainland Chinese users that the continued search of the sensitive term may break the users' connection to Google and that the interruption is outside Google's control. The below screenshot shows the image of the warning box feature:

The feature alerted users of a potential disruption to the Internet connection, but as more and more websites and keywords became inaccessible in China, search became increasingly difficult. Sources told Techcrunch that ”Google pulled the feature because it was making it more difficult for users to access its search services.” This has been confirmed by another source who requested anonymity, and who says that the decision was taken to improve users' search experience and data accessibility. When contacted, Google declined to comment.

In Chinese social media, some see this quiet policy change as a compromise in Google's transparency principle. There are also speculation that the move is correlated to the new partnership between Google and Qihoo in the search engine advertisement business, though partnerships of a similar nature have taken place before.

Currently Qihoo's biggest competitor in the search engine advertisement business is Baidu. To protect its interests, Baidu blocks Qihoo's search engine from crawling its content data. Many believe that the competition between the two has brought Qihoo and Google together. The partnership may imply that Google is quietly trying to reenter the Chinese search engine market.

Many Chinese netizens are, however, not happy about the cooperation because of Qihoo's rather controversial business style:

BillBatesCN believes that Google is trying to re-enter China while giving up on its ethical commitments:

Google要借助跟360的合作回归中国,我一直认为谷歌是个很有底线的公司,虽说在中国市场就是要放下身段,但我瞬间觉得谷歌和360少了110。

Google is trying to re-enter China by cooperating with 360 [the brand name of Qihoo's search engine]. I used to believe that Google is a company with an ethical baseline. Though there are inevitable trade-offs in entering the Chinese market, between Google and 360, there are 110 other choices.

He Zhiyong notices the coincidence in the removal of the censorship warning and the cooperation between Google and Qihoo:

近日,国内有消息称奇虎360与谷歌有望达成搜索合作协议。360也 向媒体证实了这一消息属实。与此同时,有报道称,谷歌搜索悄悄撤掉了警示中国网络审查的标语。分析指 出,谷歌搜索彻底在中国失败了,而借助360在中国翻盘的机会也很小,如果360搜索系统成熟,谷歌可能会被抛弃呜呜呜…

There is news that Qihoo 360 has an agreement with Google to forge a business partnership and 360 has confirmed this in the media. At the same time, there is a report that Google has quietly removed the message about censorship of search results in China. Some analysts say that Google has lost the Chinese market completely and the chance to re-establish themselves in China through cooperation with 360 is small. Once the 360 search system is mature, Google will be dumped.

On Sina Weibo, the most influential Chinese domestic micro-blogging platform, there's a lot of talk about the Google-Qihoo cooperation. Many angry remarks [zh] point to Qihoo 360's controversial past business style, such as accusations of faking of a Microsoft patch in August 2012 or Yahoo China's lawsuit back in 2006. The most recent scandal involves an accusation of a privacy breach that involves the leaking of private information of its users on its website, upload.360safe.com.

Disclaimer: Global Voices is supported by Google for some of its nonprofit activities. There is no connection between this story and any funding sources.

China: Google's Quiet Withdrawal of Censorship Warning Raises Questions

According to Greatfire.org, sometime between 5 and 8 December, 2012, Google quietly removed a feature that had informed users from mainland China of censored keywords. The “help article” which explained how to use the feature was also removed. A Google spokesman in Japan confirmed to Bloomberg that the feature has been disabled but declined to comment further.

A number of mainland Chinese netizens have suggested a parallel between Google's change of policy and its new business partnership with Qihoo 360. Since Google stopped abiding by Chinese government censorship demands in the Spring of 2010, some of its major business partners in China have suspended their business relations with it under pressure from the Chinese government. For example Sina Weibo stopped using Google's search engine in March 2011. The recent cooperation between Google and Qihoo 360 is therefore seen by online commentators as a possible shift in Google's business dealings with China.

Qihoo is originally an antivirus software and a web-browser company. In August last year it entered the search engine business in rivalry with Baidu, the biggest search engine in China. The news about the Google-Qihoo partnership was reported in the China Daily and picked up by the Chinese Government's official website on January 7, 2013.

Google's censorship warning feature was introduced in May of 2012 to improve users' search experience. Since spring 2010, all searches from its mainland Chinese search engine, google.cn, were redirected to its uncensored Hong Kong-based Chinese language search engine, google.hk. However, Google searches made by users in mainland China can still be blocked through the user's Internet service provider by the Chinese government's own online censorship system, known as the Great Fire Wall—a system over which Google has no control.

Because this filtering system results in a connection reset which disrupts the user's Internet connection, the warning box feature was designed to alert mainland Chinese users that the continued search of the sensitive term may break the users' connection to Google and that the interruption is outside Google's control. The below screenshot shows the image of the warning box feature:

The feature alerted users of a potential disruption to the Internet connection, but as more and more websites and keywords became inaccessible in China, search became increasingly difficult. Sources told Techcrunch that ”Google pulled the feature because it was making it more difficult for users to access its search services.” This has been confirmed by another source who requested anonymity, and who says that the decision was taken to improve users' search experience and data accessibility. When contacted, Google declined to comment.

In Chinese social media, some see this quiet policy change as a compromise in Google's transparency principle. There are also speculation that the move is correlated to the new partnership between Google and Qihoo in the search engine advertisement business, though partnerships of a similar nature have taken place before.

Currently Qihoo's biggest competitor in the search engine advertisement business is Baidu. To protect its interests, Baidu blocks Qihoo's search engine from crawling its content data. Many believe that the competition between the two has brought Qihoo and Google together. The partnership may imply that Google is quietly trying to reenter the Chinese search engine market.

Many Chinese netizens are, however, not happy about the cooperation because of Qihoo's rather controversial business style:

BillBatesCN believes that Google is trying to re-enter China while giving up on its ethical commitments:

Google要借助跟360的合作回归中国,我一直认为谷歌是个很有底线的公司,虽说在中国市场就是要放下身段,但我瞬间觉得谷歌和360少了110。

Google is trying to re-enter China by cooperating with 360 [the brand name of Qihoo's search engine]. I used to believe that Google is a company with an ethical baseline. Though there are inevitable trade-offs in entering the Chinese market, between Google and 360, there are 110 other choices.

He Zhiyong notices the coincidence in the removal of the censorship warning and the cooperation between Google and Qihoo:

近日,国内有消息称奇虎360与谷歌有望达成搜索合作协议。360也 向媒体证实了这一消息属实。与此同时,有报道称,谷歌搜索悄悄撤掉了警示中国网络审查的标语。分析指 出,谷歌搜索彻底在中国失败了,而借助360在中国翻盘的机会也很小,如果360搜索系统成熟,谷歌可能会被抛弃呜呜呜…

There is news that Qihoo 360 has an agreement with Google to forge a business partnership and 360 has confirmed this in the media. At the same time, there is a report that Google has quietly removed the message about censorship of search results in China. Some analysts say that Google has lost the Chinese market completely and the chance to re-establish themselves in China through cooperation with 360 is small. Once the 360 search system is mature, Google will be dumped.

On Sina Weibo, the most influential Chinese domestic micro-blogging platform, there's a lot of talk about the Google-Qihoo cooperation. Many angry remarks [zh] point to Qihoo 360's controversial past business style, such as accusations of faking of a Microsoft patch in August 2012 or Yahoo China's lawsuit back in 2006. The most recent scandal involves an accusation of a privacy breach that involves the leaking of private information of its users on its website, upload.360safe.com.

Disclaimer: Global Voices is supported by Google for some of its nonprofit activities. There is no connection between this story and any funding sources.

January 07 2013

China: Sina Weibo Manager Discloses Internal Censorship Practices

In the past few days, China's most influential microblogging platform, Sina Weibo, has been deleting posts related to a controversial editorial, known as the “Southern Weekly's New Year Greeting incident“. All the related keywords, and even terms like “the South” (南方), the first part of the newspaper's name, are unsearchable. Outraged micro-bloggers keep yelling and cursing at Sina Weibo's managers.

However, a Sina Weibo's manager, @geniune_Yu_Yang (正版于洋), frustrated by the pressure the Propaganda Department imposed upon him and his colleagues, came out and wrote an inside story (see jpeg image) to explain Sina's difficult position. Below is a quick translation of what he wrote:

Last night in [Sina] Weibo, apart from the Propaganda Department, my work unit was the second most popular target of netizens' verbal attack. The screen was full of the terrifying note: “The micro-blog has been deleted.” The platform looked like a sinking ship with thousands of holes on it. My boss, Lao Shen's [Sina] Weibo's page is full of cursing. In particular, after the Southern Weekly incident had been reported by Netease [a popular web portal] extensively yesterday, attacks on Sina's cowardice and its role as the running dog [of the Propaganda Department] reached a climax. I was so frustrated and finally fought with a famous online script-writer. After I cooled down, I reflected upon the whole thing, feeling the urge to write a long micro-blog to explain the situation in detail.

Very often, you can't see the truth when you just see the phenomena and when you are overwhelmed with anger.

1. If we don't delete your post, the alternative is that your account will be banned. This platform belongs to the public. It has changed our life and can exercise influence on the society and government through the spread of opinion. On the one hand, we have millions of netizens, on the other hand, we have, not Sina [Weibo, but the government and the authorities]. Since the day [around the end of March 2012] when Sina Weibo suspended its comments function for three days, a special group of people have the authority to decide on the criteria for giving out alert signals, and can make [Sina] Weibo go “game-over” as simply as treading on some ants without giving a damn about people's needs. When they issue urgent orders (like the Emperor's 18 golden orders in ancient time), you have to execute them.

We need [Sina] Weibo to deliver voices. But a hand is manipulating behind us. Someone is doomed to be sacrifice in this game. We live in a country full of special and sensitive barriers and we have to operate within a set of rules.

2. With such background, we have the second thesis: The strategy on deletion and distribution. Please think about this: You guys keep posting messages like machines, and the micro-blog secretaries keep deleting them. If we don't delete messages one by one and suspend accounts, we could have saved more time and energy. We could have served better as the running dog. You can see the messages before they are deleted, right? You still have your account functioning,  right? You are all experienced netizens, you know that the technology allows us to delete messages in a second. Please think carefully on this.

3. In some cases, other platforms have more space than Sina. Sina is the biggest tree and everyone is using the platform. “Classmate Xuan” [, nickname for the Propaganda Department,] will watch every single act. Once the leaves of the tree move, the bell rings. The way we receive orders is similar to the way the Catholic Father in the movie Cinema Paradiso rings his hand bell whenever there is a kissing scene. We have to take orders whenever we hear the ringing bell.

Before this incident occurred, and at its very early stages, we were under a lot of pressure. We tried to resist and let the messages spread. This is our accomplishment already. Our official account @Sina_Media reported on the suspension of the Southern Weekly instantly, and the news was retweeted by @headline_news, which was again retweeted again 30,000 times in 10 mins. Then we got the order from “Classmate Xuan” and we had to delete it. Fortunately, the message had been distributed. A friend from Penguin website left a warm message in my microblog: This is a battle. Sina [Weibo] is a human flesh shield. It is a courageous act.

4. Expectedly, my bosses have to go through tea session [euphemism for police interview] again. I have to stop here.

Thumbnail picture from HK fast track.

China: Sina Weibo Manager Discloses Internal Censorship Practices

In the past few days, China's most influential microblogging platform, Sina Weibo, has been deleting posts related to a controversial editorial, known as the “Southern Weekly's New Year Greeting incident“. All the related keywords, and even terms like “the South” (南方), the first part of the newspaper's name, are unsearchable. Outraged micro-bloggers keep yelling and cursing at Sina Weibo's managers.

However, a Sina Weibo's manager, @geniune_Yu_Yang (正版于洋), frustrated by the pressure the Propaganda Department imposed upon him and his colleagues, came out and wrote an inside story (see jpeg image) to explain Sina's difficult position. Below is a quick translation of what he wrote:

Last night in [Sina] Weibo, apart from the Propaganda Department, my work unit was the second most popular target of netizens' verbal attack. The screen was full of the terrifying note: “The micro-blog has been deleted.” The platform looked like a sinking ship with thousands of holes on it. My boss, Lao Shen's [Sina] Weibo's page is full of cursing. In particular, after the Southern Weekly incident, attacks on Sina's cowardice and its role as the running dog [of the Propaganda Department] reached a climax. I was so frustrated and finally fought with a famous online script-writer. After I cooled down, I reflected upon the whole thing, feeling the urge to write a long micro-blog to explain the situation in detail.

Very often, you can't see the truth when you just see the phenomena and when you are overwhelmed with anger.

1. If we don't delete your post, the alternative is that your account will be banned. This platform belongs to the public. It has changed our life and can exercise influence on the society and government through the spread of opinion. On the one hand, we have millions of netizens, on the other hand, we have, not Sina [Weibo, but the government and the authorities]. Since the day [around the end of March 2012] when Sina Weibo suspended its comments function for three days, a special group of people have the authority to decide on the criteria for giving out alert signals, and can make [Sina] Weibo go “game-over” as simply as treading on some ants without giving a damn about people's needs. When they issue urgent orders (like the Emperor's 18 golden orders in ancient time), you have to execute them.

We need [Sina] Weibo to deliver voices. But a hand is manipulating behind us. Someone is doomed to be sacrifice in this game. We live in a country full of special and sensitive barriers and we have to operate within a set of rules.

2. With such background, we have the second thesis: The strategy on deletion and distribution. Please think about this: You guys keep posting messages like machines, and the micro-blog secretaries keep deleting them. If we don't delete messages one by one and suspend accounts, we could have saved more time and energy. We could have served better as the running dog. You can see the messages before they are deleted, right? You still have your account functioning,  right? You are all experienced netizens, you know that the technology allows us to delete messages in a second. Please think carefully on this.

3. In some cases, other platforms have more space than Sina. Sina is the biggest tree and everyone is using the platform. “Classmate Xuan” [, nickname for the Propaganda Department,] will watch every single act. Once the leaves of the tree move, the bell rings. The way we receive orders is similar to the way the Catholic Father in the movie Cinema Paradiso rings his hand bell whenever there is a kissing scene. We have to take orders whenever we hear the ringing bell.

Before this incident occurred, and at its very early stages, we were under a lot of pressure. We tried to resist and let the messages spread. This is our accomplishment already. Our official account @Sina_Media reported on the suspension of the Southern Weekly instantly, and the news was retweeted by @headline_news, which was again retweeted again 30,000 times in 10 mins. Then we got the order from “Classmate Xuan” and we had to delete it. Fortunately, the message had been distributed. A friend from Penguin website left a warm message in my microblog: This is a battle. Sina [Weibo] is a human flesh shield. It is a courageous act.

4. Expectedly, my bosses have to go through tea session [euphemism for police interview] again. I have to stop here.

Thumbnail picture from HK fast track.

January 01 2013

South Korea: Perspectives on Chinese New Net Control Laws

On December 28, 2012, the Chinese government approved a set of new net control laws that would make it compulsory for internet intermediaries such as Internet Service Providers (ISP) and Online Service Providers (OSP) to enforce users' real name registration. In South Korea, a similar online real name registration policy has been in place since 2005, but with little success and eventual failures. In this post, we will examine the South Korean experiment and see the lessons Chinese netizens can learn from it.

How it all started in South Korea

The policy was first introduced in 2005. It was coined the “Real Name Verification Law” (제한적 본인 확인제 in Korean) and was part of the “Public Official Election Law” (”공직선거법” in Korean). This historical background demonstrated the legislation was associated with political elites' interests to suppressing online dissent. Two years later, in 2007, despite protests and criticism from the civil society with regard to threats to online privacy and freedom of expression, the law was expanded to be part of a broader “Information and Communication Network Law” (”정보통신망법” in Korean). Under this new regulation, South Korean netizens were forced to register their real name and resident registration numbers even if they were just commenting on online news bulletins. The regulation was originally limited to sites with more than 300,000 visitors per day. However, in 2009, the bar was lowered to sites with 100,000 visitors per day. The official rationale for this government encroachment on the net was to “reduce the use of offensive language in the cyberspace.”

How the legacy of the authoritarian past led to an Orwellian present

The most controversial element in the legislation is the fact it not only requires users to provide their real names but also their resident registration numbers (”주민등록번호” in Korean). Resident registration numbers are a legacy of the troubled past of South Korea and bring up bad memories. They were first introduced in the 1970s, during the authoritarian rule of Park Jung Hee, officially to help detect North Korean spies.

Many internet users think these registration numbers, while endangering their privacy, are used today to justify an Orwellian control of the internet. The system is also vulnerable. Personal information of South Korean internet users was leaked several times onto the Internet.

On August 23, 2012, the law was challenged before the South Korean Constitutional Court which ruled that the “Real Name Verification Law” (legislated as part of Information and Communication Network Law) was unconstitutional. The court considered that the law hinders online freedom of expression, harms privacy protection and is being challenged by the emergence of foreign and new online services that are not subject to the regulation, such as YouTube and Twitter.

Jeonghwan Lee, a prominent South Korean independent journalist, hailed [ko] the court decision. He lamented, however, that much harm has been caused by the law already. He blamed it on what he called an “ill-conceived state decision inspired by our tormented and tortured past” (오욕과 삽질의 역사 in Korean).

South Korea's Constitutional Court - by Passion84Photos (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Korean perspectives on the Chinese new net control laws

Since China announced it will enforce a real name registration policy, reactions from South Korean netizens were generally negative. They have experienced first-hand the “side-effects” of such a policy and realized long ago that its promises were hollow. Some of them also acknowledged that the new Chinese regulations might have a different effect as the two countries differ economically and politically.

Blogger Barobaro while noting that the Chinese real name registration policy has been actually introduced in 2005, warns [ko] of its impact on foreign firms operating in Chinese domestic market. He writes:

이번 법안은 “모든 인터넷 사용자들이 인터넷 서비스를 사용할 시 반드시 실명인증을 하도록 한 것”으로서 다시 말해서 기존의 모든 실명제를 포함할 뿐만이 아니라 해당 사항을 중국시장에 진출하려는 해외기업에까지 강요할 것으로 보인다.

This act forces “all net users to register their names to use online services”. It means, in other words, that the Chinese real name verification system will be enforced on foreign firms as well.

The blogger also wonders [ko] why the Chinese government has decided to expand the real name registration policy when it has “spectacularly failed” in neighboring South Korea:

한국에서는 2012년 8월 23일 헌법재판소에서 위헌판정을 내리면서 2007년부터 실행되어 온 인터넷실명제가 폐지되었다. 2011년 9월 뉴욕타임즈에서 지적하였다 싶이 ““온라인에서의 익명 표현의 자유는 단순히 개인 정보 보호 차원이 아니라 아랍의 반정부 시위에서 보듯이 정치적으로 민감한 반대 의견을 표명하거나 기업의 기밀을 폭로하려는 내부 고발자에게 필수적”이라고 하였듯이 표현의 자유의 문제와 직결된다. 단순히 이념적인 문제뿐만이 아니라 옥션, 네이트의 개인정보가 해킹을 통해서 대량으로 유출되는 등의 심각한 문제가 발생하였다.

In South Korea, the Constitutional Court killed the five-year old regulation which started in 2007. As The New York Times pointed out “online anonymous expression is not only a matter of personal privacy protection. As shown from the case of the Arab Spring, it is indispensable for political dissenters expressing opposing ideas[, and also] to whistle-blowers revealing the inside information of companies.” Maintaining an online anonymous identity is directly associated with freedom of expression. It is not only an ideological question, as we have witnessed when the public was shocked to discover Auction and Nate's accumulated users' personal information leaked following a massive hacking attack.

The blogger, however, thinks [ko] that, unlike South Korea, the Chinese government will succeed in cementing net control via its real name registration policy, as the two countries' political systems vary with regard to democratic accountability:

중국은 한국과는 다르게 성공할 것으로 보인다. 한국에서는 사실상 수 많은 유져들이 해외서비스를 이용하는 현실적인 회피수단과 동시에 민주주의가 일정 이상 자리 잡은 곳이었기에 인터넷 실명제는 결국 패망할 수 밖에 없었다.  그러나 중국은 구글이나 위키와 같은 “자유언론”을 지지하는 해외 인터넷 싸이트을 완전히 차단하는 행위를 이미 하고 있고, 그 결과 중국정부에 충성하는 국내기업들에 중국사용자들이 모두 몰려 있는 상황이기에 얼마든지 인터넷 실명제를 시행할 수 있으며, 개인정보유출과 같은 인터넷 실명제의 폐단을 은닉할 수 있으리라 생각된다.

Nevertheless, China will succeed in cementing the net control via real name [registration] policy which is quite different from that of the South Korean government. In South Korea, many users can freely use foreign services and democracy has been institutionalized to some extent. Thus real name verification from the beginning was very fragile. However in China, foreign services that support free expression like Google and Wikipedia are totally banned. Chinese users are only using the domestic Internet firms which show loyalty towards the Chinese government. So the Chinese regime can more comfortably enforce real name registration policy, even if serious privacy crises occur, as the government can always conceal its existence at all.

Blogger eBizbooks points out that some Chinese leaders misinterpreted the impact of the real name verification law on the South Korean society. He shares Barobaro's concern that this shift towards control will diminish the attractiveness of the Chinese market to foreign entrepreneurs and investors:

[중국의] 인터넷 실명제 찬성 측의 찬성 찬성 이유 중 하나는 “인터넷 선진국인 한국에서는 실명제를 실시하고 있다”는 것입니다. 중국 정부는 자신들의 체제 유지에 가장 위협적인 요소 중 하나로 인터넷에서의 다양한 주장 표출을 꼽습니다. 정치인들이 곧잘 얘기하는 “민심이 곧 천심”이라면 그 하늘이 인터넷인 것이지요. … 현재 중국의 인터넷 이용자 수는 4억을 넘었으며 2006년 이후부터의 폭팔적인 상승세는 현재진행형입니다. 이들의 힘은 제대로 기능하지 못하는 언론의 기능을 대신 수행하여 정부를 감시할 정도로 막강합니다. … 중국 정부는 당연히 두려울 수밖에 없지요. 이러한 상황에서 중국 정부의 인터넷 통제가 완화되리라는 기대는 시기상조일 겁니다. 중국 진출을 염두에 둔 분들이시라면 결국에는 시장 철수한 구글처럼 중국 인터넷의 통제와 검열의 리스크가 완화되기를 기대하기보다는, 중국 인터넷 시장 상황에 맞는 전략을 다시 수립한 다음 차분히 기회를 노려야겠지요.

[In China], those who are in favor of tightening net control boast that “South Korea, a leading nation in the Internet, already has employed a real name registration policy”. The Chinese government regards the diversity of opinions blossoming over the internet as a challenge to the regime's security. [As the old saying goes] “the collective mind of citizens is the heavenly sovereignty”. It is now expressed through the Internet […] Currently China has more than 4 million net users and it has bee rapidly growing. The Internet public sphere somehow replaced the malfunctioning Chinese media and played the role of a watchdog… It is therefore understandable that the Chinese government fears the Internet. Under this circumstance, it is unlikely that the Chinese government will lighten its grip on the net. […] If you are considering moving your business into China, you need to set up a new business strategy that is adaptable to Chinese government-led market and must wait until the risk imposed by Chinese net control and surveillance is softened.

South Korea: Perspectives on Chinese New Net Control Laws

On December 28, 2012, the Chinese government approved a set of new net control laws that would make it compulsory for internet intermediaries such as Internet Service Providers (ISP) and Online Service Providers (OSP) to enforce users' real name registration. In South Korea, a similar online real name registration policy has been in place since 2005, but with little success and eventual failures. In this post, we will examine the South Korean experiment and see if Chinese netizens can learn any lessons from it.

How it all started in South Korea

The policy was first introduced in 2005. It was coined the “Real Name Verification Law” (제한적 본인 확인제 in Korean) and was part of the “Public Official Election Law” (”공직선거법” in Korean). This historical background demonstrated the legislation has been associated with the political elites' interests of suppressing online dissent opinions. Two years later, in 2007, despite protests and criticism from the civil society with regard to threats to online privacy and free expression, the law was expanded to be part of “Information and Communication Network Law” (”정보통신망법” in Korean). Under this new regulation, South Korean netizens were enforced to register their real name and resident registration number even if they just want to make a comment on online bulletin boards. First, the subject of regulation was limited to the sites which have more than 300,000 visitors per a day however, in 2009, the bar was soon lowered to 100,000 visitors per a day. The official rationale of this government encroachment on the net was to reduce “the use of offensive language in the cyberspace.”

How the legacy of the authoritarian past led to an Orwellian present

The most controversial element in the legislation is the fact it not only requires users to provide their real names but also their resident registration numbers (”주민등록번호” in Korean). Resident registration numbers are a legacy of the troubled past of South Korea and bring up bad memories. They were first introduced in the 1970s, during the authoritarian rule of Park Jung Hee, officially to help detect North Korean spies.

Many internet users think these registration numbers, while endangering their privacy, are used today to justify an Orwellian control of the internet. The system is also vulnerable. Personal information of South Korean internet users was leaked several times onto the Internet.

On August 23, 2012, the law was challenged before the South Korean Constitutional Court which ruled that the “Information and Communication Network Law” was unconstitutional. The court considered that the law hinders online freedom of expression, harms privacy protection and is being challenged by the emergence of foreign and new online services that are not subject to the regulation, such as YouTube and Twitter.

Jeonghwan Lee, a prominent South Korean independent journalist, hailed [ko] the court decision. He lamented, however, that much harm has been caused by the law already. He blamed it on what he called an “ill-conceived state decision inspired by our tormented and tortured past” (오욕과 삽질의 역사 in Korean).

South Korea's Constitutional Court - by Passion84Photos (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Korean perspectives on the Chinese new net control laws

Since China announced it will enforce a real name registration policy, reactions from South Korean netizens were generally negative. They have experienced first-hand the “side-effects” of such a policy and realized long ago that its promises were hollow. Some of them also acknowledged that the new Chinese regulations might have a different effect as the two countries differ economically and politically.

Blogger Barobaro while noting that the Chinese real name registration policy has been actually introduced in 2005, warns [ko] of its impact on foreign firms operating in Chinese domestic market. He writes:

이번 법안은 “모든 인터넷 사용자들이 인터넷 서비스를 사용할 시 반드시 실명인증을 하도록 한 것”으로서 다시 말해서 기존의 모든 실명제를 포함할 뿐만이 아니라 해당 사항을 중국시장에 진출하려는 해외기업에까지 강요할 것으로 보인다.

This act forces “all net users to register their names to use online services”. It means, in other words, that the Chinese real name verification system will be enforced on foreign firms as well.

The blogger also wonders [ko] why the Chinese government has decided to expand the real name registration policy when it has “spectacularly failed” in neighboring South Korea:

한국에서는 2012년 8월 23일 헌법재판소에서 위헌판정을 내리면서 2007년부터 실행되어 온 인터넷실명제가 폐지되었다. 2011년 9월 뉴욕타임즈에서 지적하였다 싶이 ““온라인에서의 익명 표현의 자유는 단순히 개인 정보 보호 차원이 아니라 아랍의 반정부 시위에서 보듯이 정치적으로 민감한 반대 의견을 표명하거나 기업의 기밀을 폭로하려는 내부 고발자에게 필수적”이라고 하였듯이 표현의 자유의 문제와 직결된다. 단순히 이념적인 문제뿐만이 아니라 옥션, 네이트의 개인정보가 해킹을 통해서 대량으로 유출되는 등의 심각한 문제가 발생하였다.

In South Korea, the Constitutional Court killed the five-year old regulation which started in 2007. As The New York Times pointed out “online anonymous expression is not only a matter of personal privacy protection. As shown from the case of the Arab Spring, it is indispensable for political dissenters expressing opposing ideas[, and also] to whistle-blowers revealing the inside information of companies.” Maintaining an online anonymous identity is directly associated with freedom of expression. It is not only an ideological question, as we have witnessed when the public was shocked to discover Auction and Nate's accumulated users' personal information leaked following a massive hacking attack.

The blogger, however, thinks [ko] that, unlike South Korea, the Chinese government will succeed in cementing net control via its real name registration policy, as the two countries' political systems vary with regard to democratic accountability:

중국은 한국과는 다르게 성공할 것으로 보인다. 한국에서는 사실상 수 많은 유져들이 해외서비스를 이용하는 현실적인 회피수단과 동시에 민주주의가 일정 이상 자리 잡은 곳이었기에 인터넷 실명제는 결국 패망할 수 밖에 없었다.  그러나 중국은 구글이나 위키와 같은 “자유언론”을 지지하는 해외 인터넷 싸이트을 완전히 차단하는 행위를 이미 하고 있고, 그 결과 중국정부에 충성하는 국내기업들에 중국사용자들이 모두 몰려 있는 상황이기에 얼마든지 인터넷 실명제를 시행할 수 있으며, 개인정보유출과 같은 인터넷 실명제의 폐단을 은닉할 수 있으리라 생각된다.

Nevertheless, China will succeed in cementing the net control via real name [registration] policy which is quite different from that of the South Korean government. In South Korea, many users can freely use foreign services and democracy has been institutionalized to some extent. Thus real name verification from the beginning was very fragile. However in China, foreign services that support free expression like Google and Wikipedia are totally banned. Chinese users are only using the domestic Internet firms which show loyalty towards the Chinese government. So the Chinese regime can more comfortably enforce real name registration policy, even if serious privacy crises occur, as the government can always conceal its existence at all.

Blogger eBizbooks points out that some Chinese leaders misinterpreted the impact of the real name verification law on the South Korean society. He shares Barobaro's concern that this shift towards control will diminish the attractiveness of the Chinese market to foreign entrepreneurs and investors:

[중국의] 인터넷 실명제 찬성 측의 찬성 찬성 이유 중 하나는 “인터넷 선진국인 한국에서는 실명제를 실시하고 있다”는 것입니다. 중국 정부는 자신들의 체제 유지에 가장 위협적인 요소 중 하나로 인터넷에서의 다양한 주장 표출을 꼽습니다. 정치인들이 곧잘 얘기하는 “민심이 곧 천심”이라면 그 하늘이 인터넷인 것이지요. … 현재 중국의 인터넷 이용자 수는 4억을 넘었으며 2006년 이후부터의 폭팔적인 상승세는 현재진행형입니다. 이들의 힘은 제대로 기능하지 못하는 언론의 기능을 대신 수행하여 정부를 감시할 정도로 막강합니다. … 중국 정부는 당연히 두려울 수밖에 없지요. 이러한 상황에서 중국 정부의 인터넷 통제가 완화되리라는 기대는 시기상조일 겁니다. 중국 진출을 염두에 둔 분들이시라면 결국에는 시장 철수한 구글처럼 중국 인터넷의 통제와 검열의 리스크가 완화되기를 기대하기보다는, 중국 인터넷 시장 상황에 맞는 전략을 다시 수립한 다음 차분히 기회를 노려야겠지요.

[In China], those who are in favor of tightening net control boast that “South Korea, a leading nation in the Internet, already has employed a real name registration policy”. The Chinese government regards the diversity of opinions blossoming over the internet as a challenge to the regime's security. [As the old saying goes] “the collective mind of citizens is the heavenly sovereignty”. It is now expressed through the Internet […] Currently China has more than 4 million net users and it has bee rapidly growing. The Internet public sphere somehow replaced the malfunctioning Chinese media and played the role of a watchdog… It is therefore understandable that the Chinese government fears the Internet. Under this circumstance, it is unlikely that the Chinese government will lighten its grip on the net. […] If you are considering moving your business into China, you need to set up a new business strategy that is adaptable to Chinese government-led market and must wait until the risk imposed by Chinese net control and surveillance is softened.

December 30 2012

China Introduces New Rules to Tighten Government's Grip Over the Internet

On Friday, December 28, 2012, China's legislature, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), approved a set of new rules intended to tighten government control over the Internet. The new rules will allow the State Council (China's central government) to amend the Administration of Internet Information Services Procedures [zh], the law governing the use of the Internet on Chinese territory, making it compulsory for Internet Service providers (ISPs) and Online Service Providers (OSPs)—like email, news or entertainment providers—to enforce real name registration of internet users.

NPC passed a set of rules to provide legal ground for real name registration. Public domain photo from NPC official website.

Enforcing Internet Real Name Registration

Among the 151 attendees of the NPC, 145 voted in favor of adopting the new rules, 5 abstained and—in a very rare show of dissidence [zh]—1 representative voted against. The most controversial part of the 12-article document [zh] is the “Protection of Personal Information Online” section, which deals with real name registration. The document reads:

Network service providers will ask users to provide genuine identification information when signing agreements to grant them access to the Internet, fixed-line telephone or mobile devices or to allow users to post information publicly — Xinhua

The actual implementation of the real name provision will be specified in practice by the central government in a future amendment of the Administration of Internet Information Services Procedures, the law first introduced in 2000 and that governs Internet use in China.

The law already forces ISPs to ask users to register with their real names. OSPs, like micro-blogging platforms, on the other hand, have so far only been “encouraged” to ask all their users to register with their real names.

Sina Weibo [zh], China's most popular and influential microblogging service, has two real name registration systems. The first is a verification system for celebrities, similar to that of Twitter. Upon government pressure, Weibo launched a second real name registration mechanism in early 2012 for its broader community of users. The system is connected to Weibo's online payment platform where mainland Chinese users have to submit their real names, I.D. card numbers, create a password for their online payment service. The system will then match the user's name and I.D. card number to complete the verification process. As for overseas users, real name registration is not required. Sina Weibo encourages them, however, to connect their mobile phone numbers with their accounts.

On February 2012, Sina Weibo threatened to suspend anonymous users' accounts if they failed to register their real names before March 16, 2012. Past the deadline, anonymous users could no longer comment or retweet under certain “hot-topics.” However, the policy was very short-lived. In fact it lasted only for a few days as the company seen a steep drop in user activity, forcing it to restore its original basic service.

Currently, anonymous users can still post micro-blogs, retweet and comment. However, many still complain about strange system behavior: some say their posts are visible only to themselves or to mutually followed friends, some only to followers.

The future amendment may penalize those OSPs which fail to enforce real name registration. The new set of regulations will also allow OSPs to change their terms of service with their users without running the risk of being sued by their clients.

Implications of the New Set of Rules

How the policy will actually be implemented is a matter for the State Council to decide. That's why prominent human rights lawyer, Liu Xiaoyun, urged all netizens to voice their opposition against any measure that could violate freedom of expression as protected by the Chinese constitution. Below is the translation of a selection of Liu's answers to a series of questions and concerns raised by Chinese netizens on the Netease microblog [zh] platform:

hansonji :#解读网络信息保护草案# 向@刘晓原律师 提问:我担心网络反腐败到实名为止了,,网络实名本身就是最大的侵权。

刘晓原律师 :韩国宪法法院称,互联网实名制阻碍了用户自由表达意见。中国宪法也赋予公民言论自由权,但中国没有宪法法院,因此,无法针对网络信息保护决定提起违宪之诉。

hansonji: I am worried that the real name registration system will put an end to the online anti-corruption campaign. The system is a violation of human rights.

Liu: The Korean Constitution court has already ruled that the real name registration has violated users' freedom of expression. The Chinese Constitution has also protected Chinese citizen with rights to freedom of expression. However, in the case of China, we don't have a constitution court and we can't file a judicial review against the administrative regulation on the protection of internet information.

网络知客 :#解读网络信息保护草案# 向@刘晓原律师 提问:手机卡号实名制购买,现在弄得各种促销短信满天飞,谁泄露的我的手机号码? 股市个人信息泄露又是谁的责任~?
刘晓原律师 :实名制后,给相关管理部门收取个人信息提供了便利条件,反而不安全了。

网络知客 : We have mobile phone real name registration implemented. But what we get is mobile spams. Who has leaked out my mobile numbers? Even personal information in stock market has been leaked. Who is going to be responsible for this?

Liu: After the real name registration, it is much more easy for commercial sectors and the authorities to obtain people's private data. It will be more insecure.

我爱天美 :#解读网络信息保护草案# 向@刘晓原律师 提问:棺员财产公示制度千呼万唤出不来,这个封口法律为何这么快??

刘晓原律师 :我也不理解。财产申报制度,全国人大常委会从1994年开始讨论,至今长达十八年了也出台不了一部法律或一个决定。据说,理由是条件不成熟!

我爱天美 : How come the legislation for government officials to disclose their property has never been implemented, even though the whole world has been calling for that. Whereas for making rules to shut people up, the legislation is so quick?

Liu: I don't understand that either. The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) has started discussing the disclosure of government officials' property since 1994. It has been 18 years, nothing came out yet. The hearsay explanation is that “the conditions are not mature enough”!

xzly的空间 :#解读网络信息保护草案# 向@刘晓原律师 提问:请问,保护网络信息如何与揭发执政者的腐败行为区分开来?从而不会让腐败官员打着保护网络信息安全的旗号阻止、压制、打击、陷害举报揭发他们腐败罪行的正义人士。

刘晓原律师 :网络信息安全要保护,但实行实名制作用不大。韩国人金宰贤为金融时报撰文介绍韩国网络实名制时说,韩国于2007年7月开始实施网络实名制,旨在减少网上的语言暴力、名誉损坏、虚假信息传播和不正常的人肉搜索。但实行实名制后,韩国不仅没有如愿以偿,结果恰恰南辕北辙,致使韩国各大网站成了黑客的主要攻击对象。

xzly的空间 :Is there a way to protect internet information without repressing online anti-corruption efforts? How to stop corrupted officials from repressing and cracking down of the righteous ones who exposed their corruption under the excuse of the protection of internet information security?

Liu: The real name registration system cannot protect internet information security. Korean columnist Kim Chong Il from the Financial Times pointed out that when South Korea introduced the real name registration system in July 2007, the objective was to reduce verbal violence, defamation, rumors and human flesh related search queries. However, such objective has never been fulfilled. On the contrary, the system has attracted many hackers to attack major web portals.

xianshideliliang12 :#解读网络信息保护草案# 向@刘晓原律师 提问:对于信息保护的监督落实和此法案有多大意义上的作用

刘晓原律师 :有了全国人大常委会的决定,国务院就可以制定相关的行政法规。现国务院法制办副主任袁曙宏表示,目前国务院法制办正会同有关部门修订国务院2000年制定的互联网信息服务管理办法。办法修订草案细化了决定的内容,

xianshideliliang12: What is the implication of this bill in the implementation of online personal data protection and monitoring?

Liu: With the NPC's decision, the State Council can propose a set of regulations to implement the rules. The deputy head of the law making office of the State Council Yuan Shuhong said that the State Council is now working with various departments to amend the Administration of Internet Information Services Procedures which was implemented in 2000. The amendment will specify the details.

海上神鹰 :#解读网络信息保护草案# 向@刘晓原律师 提问:网络信息保护是出于什么样的目的?是监视网民不要乱在网上发布不利于官员的信息还是监视网民对社会不公正现象表达不满?

刘晓原律师 :前不久,有媒体报道说,使用匿名制,对涉及互联网违法犯罪案件,公安机关取证很困难。但现在又说,是为了保护公民在互联网上的信息安全。

海上神鹰: What is the purpose of the internet information protection? Is it intended to monitor netizens and stop them from revealing information that can hurt government officials? Is it intended to prevent them from speaking up against social injustice?

Liu: Not long ago, some media reports said that the anonymous use of the internet will create barriers for the police to investigate on online crimes. Now they say that it is for the sake of protecting citizens' personal information online.

December 24 2012

Hong Kong: Citizen Media Summit Seeks Common Agenda

An online citizen media summit, organized by inmediahk.net [zh], was held in Hong Kong on December 15, 2012. The objective of the gathering was to formulate a common agenda among local non-mainstream media actors. The summit, attended by 200 local citizen media organizers and concerned netizens, consisted of 9 sub-group panel discussions that revolved around the following topics:

1. Challenges paused by the Copyright Amendment
2. How to make use and step out of the “tyranny of Facebook”
3. Communication and exclusion and the “tribalization challenge”
4. Radical community media politics vs. populist politics
5. How to deal with government and corporate oppression
6. Management and sustainability challenges
7. Online content: Diversification or homogenization; Alternatives or mainstream
8. How can citizen media develop cross-border content
9. Grassroots networking through online media

Inmediahk Summit poster

The summit organizer, inmediahk.net, invited 4 distinguished speakers:

Ip Iam Chong: One of the founders of inmediahk.net; Lecturer at the Cultural Studies Department, Lingnan University.
Jack Qui Linchuan: Associate professor at the School of Journalism and Communication, the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Chloe Lai: Senior journalist and part-time lecturer on journalism.
Lisa Leung Yuk Ming: Assistant professor at the Cultural Studies Department, Lingnan University.

Below is a summary report on the main observations made by the aforementioned four speakers at the end of the summit:

Ip Iam Chong: Exploring common agenda across online tribes

What is the meaning of new media explosion, wonders Ip Iam Chong. It is a global phenomenon that marks the subsiding of mass culture. However, the process is very slow. For example, in the case of Hong Kong, TVB, a popular commercial television station, still has a large audience.

In the past few years, a large number of small online media have emerged but they remain very tribalized. Sometimes they are even at odds with each other. This summit was in fact a rare occasion for participants from non-mainstream media to sit together. At the same time, we, citizen media actors, commonly face a set of challenges: a common technological setting; main actors in the local democratization process; the subsiding of conventional and commercial news media organizations as a result of the failure of the existing business model.

The revolution taking place now is led by a large number of small online media organizations—the so-called “We” media. They are not just media groups but they represent a new political practice. Yet the movement also faces a lot of additional challenges, such as the fact they have to operate under the tyranny of new media giants, such as Facebook. They are restricted by their policy and technological settings.

Moreover, online media groups are ghettoized. The emotionally-charged type of information they distribute, mostly speaks to those who share the same perspective. This is the so-called “Echo Chamber Effect.” The affective consumption of information makes it even more difficult to carry out in-depth discussion on social and political issues. We are aware of the fact that investigative reports can be rarely found in online citizen media.

Despite all these challenges, with a common context, Ip Iam Chong thinks it is still possible for us, citizen media actors, to formulate a common agenda among local citizen and non-mainstream medial.

Jack Qui: Embracing social and political transformation

Jack Qui's research is focused on how mainland Chinese workers make use of Internet and mobile communication technology in the Pearl River Delta. He has attended the copyrights and grassroots media panel discussions during this summit.

To deal with the tribal culture, Qui contends, citizen media organizations need to have more exchanges. One of the speakers pointed out that people nowadays only show their concern online, but very few actually participate in offline and community based grassroots activities. However, when compared with other countries, citizen media in Hong Kong is very much attached to local and urban politics.

We are in the era of “mass self-communication.” It generates from the self, with roots in the local communities. There is potential for it to go deeper and extend into the rest of the society. Of course, we are constrained by capital and legal settings, as pointed out by the Copyright group during the summit. Furthermore, we are locked in a “tele-cocoon,” partly because of the communication mode of the existing social media platforms. The situation is the same across all countries. The sustainability of the self is crucial to overcome the above-mentioned difficulties as the self is the source of creativity and diversity.

The Internet public sphere, constituted by mass self-communication, is a site for political contest. Currently, the new media sector in Hong Kong has not generated enough power to threaten the political status quo. That's why the pro-China political forces do not have a strong political will to take it over. However, when we look at the South Korean experience, in 2001, the democratic alliance defeated the conservatives in the presidential election largely with the help of online mobilization. Within 5 years (in 2006) the conservatives had taken over the Internet public sphere and subsequently regained their power. The same situation may happen in Hong Kong as well.

Yet Jack Qui believes that we should not be defeated and should embrace the project of social and political transformation in Hong Kong, as well as in China, with our media practice.

Chloe Lai: Content is the King

Chloe Lai's background is professional journalism. She believes that the definition of a journalist is through journalistic practice rather than through any institutional set up. Even though she has left the industry, she says she is still a journalist. The oppression of professional and citizen journalists is of a similar nature. The difference is, citizen journalists don't have institutional support when they are bullied. Community support is thus very important. The nature of oppression is multidimensional, exercised through government policy, legal prosecution, or even physical violence. A workshop for individual bloggers is probably needed to help them build their community support.

As for the cross-border discussion, we are all aware of the fact that international news delivery has been monopolized by international news agencies. The situation in Hong Kong is even worse. For commercial media, news is restricted to what the market or their audience dictate; that's why they only focus on reporting news in countries where Hong Kong people visit most frequently. Citizen media, in that regard, has more freedom to report on international news. Of course resources remain a huge challenge.

As for sharing Hong Kong news with the global audience, the language barrier need to be overcome. Currently international news agencies' interest is all about mainland China, rather than Hong Kong. More English content needs to be produced to tell the global audience what happens here. Actually translation is more difficult than writing original news as you need to provide a lot of context. Hong Kong mainstream media is often disappointing in that regard. At the same time citizen media content is mainly made of news commentaries. As a trained journalist, Chloe believes that content is the king and that investigative reporting is essential, “that's why I really appreciate inmediahk.net's effort in producing first hand citizen report,” she adds. Moreover, Chloe thinks we should judge our news by its news value and public interest, rather than the liking or the political attitude of the audience.

In conclusion, Chloe Lai observes that many online media organizations in Hong Kong have emerged because of the current political context. She wonders: Once the political context changes, will the organizations still be defending our free speech environment? Or will their position depend on which political clan media bosses belong to?

Lisa Leung: Management of Creativity

Lisa Leung's current research is focused on social media and political participation. She believes we face a lot of contradictions today. On the one hand, the communication is very individualized, and on the other we perceive the online space as a “public space”. However, we all know that the technological setting is “customized”. We are not living in a global village, just a “customized cottage.” We have to walk out from such a myth. The path is not straight, it is a zig-zag path through trials and errors.

The second character of the social media is its affective aspect. The “self” is at the center of the performance. How to manage our “affection” to build more constructive discussions? The re-packaging of information and news seems important. The management of creativity is crucial as well, such as in the handling of the legal risks. For example Golden Forum (a popular Hong Kong-based Internet forum) users are experienced in making use of “parody” to avoid legal prosecutions such as defamation and distribution of indecent materials online.

As for the sustainability question, most of the citizen and non-mainstream media depend on “friendship” and the “shared vision” which are also related to the affective aspect. But how to extend the closed network and run your organization as a media that reaches out to bigger audiences is still a big challenge.

December 20 2012

China: Government Willingness to Expand Control Over Internet Worries Netizens

Famous info-activist Wen Yunchao reveals [zh] that the Chinese Communist Party Propaganda Department has issued an instruction to major media outlets to highlight two oficially crafted articles that justify Internet censorship. Both articles are published today, December 20, 2012.

The first piece is entitled: “Internet is a disaster area for the leaking of private data” (個人信息洩露,網絡是重災區). It is published by the People's Daily, an official outlet of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. The second piece is “Punish internet crime, strengthen the protection and management of information in the Internet” (懲治網絡違法犯罪,依法加強網絡信息保護和管理).

The two articles are an elaboration of two previous commentaries on Internet governance published on December 18 and 19 by the same People's Daily, namely “The Internet is not outside the Law” [translated by China Media Project](網絡不是法外之地)and “Regulation of the Internet according to Law is an international practice” (互聯網:依法監管是各國慣例).

Wen, an experienced observer of Chinese state-controlled media,  believes this move announces a new wave of crackdown on online dissent, similar to the “anti-vulgarity campaign” in 2009.

The Internet is not outside the Law” highlights what it describes as the “adverse effects of the internet,” saying that it is a platform for “spreading scams, cyber attacks and rumors.”

The other piece, “Regulation of the Internet according to Law is an international practice“, quotes examples from other countries and uses them to rationalize online surveillance and censorship practices such as real name registration systems (Sweden), counter-cybercrime and terrorism (the U.S.A.), censorship of racist and nazi speeches (Germany), Internet black list systems and criminalization of defamation against the Monarch (Thailand), legislation against online sedition and blasphemy (Singapore).

The article “Internet is a disaster area for the leakage of private data” is a collection of recycled news about the stealing of personal identity card information in real life settings and the use of the data for fraudulent online shopping and online trading of personal data. It is worth noticing that this is not directly related to the issue of online privacy protection.

The second piece, “Punish internet crime, strengthen the protection and management of information in the Internet“, also published today, repeats what has been said in “The Internet is not outside the Law” two days ago, also justifying online surveillance and censorship.

Concerned Chinese netizens have reacted strongly [zh] against the two articles and pointed out that the “customary practices from overseas,” as the official papers put it, would become “tyranny” in China given the lack of democratic processes in policy deliberation and among people elected to government.

Conspiracy theories concerning the authorities' plan to strengthen control over the Internet seem to have been confirmed by these latest official instructions directed to the media.

 

March 09 2012

Internet Freedom in Southeast Asia

Cyber political pundits, bloggers and Facebook activists in Thailand often feel deeply frustrated and annoyed with their lack of liberty to write at will. Yet netizen's frustration with seemingly increasing internet censorship is not unique to Thailand, but rather it's part of the global insurgence of state control over internet freedom. As the internet and new media come to dominate the flow of news and information around the world, governments have stricken back with measures to control, regulate and censor the content of blogs, websites and text messages. A new study by OpenNet Initiative, a renowned research group that studies internet surveillance and filtering based in the University of Toronto conducted testing on the degree of filtering and transparency on several Southeast Asian countries. The results reveal some common trend.

While the growth of internet usage across the region (except Burma) has caused some worry among political leaders, reasons for such concern vary. Indonesia and Thailand focus their internet censorship efforts on social issues, particularly online pornography, whereas Malaysia, Vietnam, Burma and to some extent Thailand have gone to some lengths to crack down on cyber dissidents deemed a threat to regime stability. The varying degree of filtering on issues of social, political, and national security importance give some indication of the country's priority on internet control.

Some leaders are more paranoid about the threat of internet than others, however. The Burmese government has taken measures to restrict internet freedom that are incommensurate with the extent of the problem. Not only that less than 1% of Burmese has access to the internet, but the internet curfew that permits users to go online only between 9pm to 5am place greater disincentives for net users. Cyber attacks on opposition groups are common place and harsh penalties await violators.

Other leaders, while wary of potential negative impacts of the internet on political stability, have opted to allow for greater internet freedom. Singapore, with its hegemonic party rule, has one of the world's highest internet penetration rates. Instead of practicing cyber surveillance and filtering, its leaders prefer to rely on non-technological means to curb online commentary perceived to be a threat to social values and religious and ethnic harmony. These “second generation” control mechanisms, such as lawsuits, steep fines, and criminal prosecution, act to deter “inappropriate” online behavior.

Thailand, in comparison to its neighbors, has a rather “schizophrenic” practice of internet censorship. The Thai state began cyber surveillance in 2002 on issues of pornography, separatists, gambling, terrorism and negative comments regarding the monarchy, but in recent years much efforts concentrated on the latter. The study finds that filtering is not performed consistently among internet providers, with state-run TOT exercising greater surveillance than its private counterpart, True.

Indeed the country lacks explicit privacy law and its censorship regulations remain opaque - giving undue power to the state to execute cyber dissidents at will. Yet despite this climate of pervasive fear and self censorship among Thai netizens, a growing number of them have with some success resisted control via the use of various circumvention tools.

The future of global internet freedom looks bleak despite the growth of net users. Southeast Asia is likely to be no exception. Governments, poor and rich, have grown increasingly savvy with cyber control, employing more and more sophisticated tools to censor the internet in the name of “national security”. Private companies respond with more innovation on cyber security as opposed to developing new ways to promote cyber networking and surveillance circumvention tools.

Source: Adapted from Access Contested (2011), with the exception of Singapore whose results come from their 2007 study. The Net Freedom column is based on Freedom House Net Freedom 2011 ratings.* Penetration rate is based on ITU 2009, 2010


Click to enlarge image

May 08 2010

Photo Contest of CSIS Southeast Asia Program

By Senor Pablo

The CSIS Southeast Asia Program is organizing a photo contest to feature images taken in Southeast Asia that demonstrate the importance of communication and cooperation - across countries, races and religions.

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