China Steps Up Internet Surveillance With “Cybersecurity Police Stations” at Major Websites

The entrance of a China police station. Photo taken by Flickr user: Alexandra Moss (CC: AT-SA-NC)

The entrance of a China police station. Photo taken by Flickr user: Alexandra Moss (CC: AT-SA-NC)

This post was written by Ryan Kilpatrick, originally published on Hong Kong Free Press on August 5. It is republished on Global Voices under the content partnership agreement.

Since 2006, China has had “cyber police” officers tasked with enforcing laws concerning online content and behavior on major websites. These law enforcement officials do their work at physical offices at the headquarters of major Internet firms, where they take action once the company identifies an online “crime” taking place. It is unknown precisely what technical tools they use to do this, but as of this week, the system is set for an upgrade.

China plans to set up “cybersecurity police stations” within major websites and Internet firms to scour for inappropriate content, state media revealed Tuesday as the country further tightened its grip on the Internet.

People’s Daily reported that the stations would be operated by the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) and would be set up within “important websites” nationwide.

Chen Zimin, vice minister of the MPS, said at a national web security conference in Beijing that the offices will be charged with “inspecting the operation of websites and enforcing laws governing online activities.” He added that they “should work hard to uncover and prevent various illegal acts online.”

The new establishment of “Cybersecurity police stations,” together with regulation of illegal content and activities, and with mass surveillance of so-called “sensitive content,” may empower authorities to more effectively crack down on crimes and illegal activities, along with protests and political activity, in a more effective manner.

Stepping up surveillance

Until now, managing online discourse has been delegated to Internet content providers on a largely ad hoc basis.

Businesses are held liable for all content appearing on their websites, and are expected to prevent the appearance of politically or legally objectionable content – either through automated means or by manually policing their sites. Letting material deemed inappropriate slip through the net could result in reprimands for the company responsible.

China has taken an increasingly aggressive position on internet control since the ascendancy of President Xi Jinping in late 2012.

The Central Cybersecurity and Informatisation Leading Group, predecessor to the Cybersecurity Administration of China, came into being under Xi in 2014 to develop guidelines for the PRC’s online security policies.

Advancing the idea of “Internet sovereignty” to justify and increase in state control over online activity, the administration unveiled a new cybersecurity law in July that allows authorities to cut Internet access during “public security emergencies”.

Such measures were previously exercised in Xinjiang and Tibet during periods of unrest.

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