China Wants Its Hands All Over Your Internet

China Wants Its Hands All Over Your Internet

Summary: China faces US cyberspying accusations after proposing a "Code of Conduct" to the UN and renewing its internal internet censorship.

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New revelations about industrial cyberspying and internal crackdowns on microblogs call into question China's motives to exert control over internet governance - and behave responsibly outside its borders in cyberspace.

If I was China right now, I'd be SO embarrassed.

I mean, if I had just turned in a big report to the U.N. proposing an internet "Code of Conduct" under the guise of security and fighting cyber crime, and then the U.S. Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive issued a report saying I was doing the very things that would violate that proposal...

Well, it would be way worse than that time I showed up to the first day of 8th grade homeroom and Becky the cheerleader was wearing the exact same blue Banana Republic sweater that I was.

I'm in no way trying to minimize what's going on here, but it's difficult not to think The Onion is orchestrating China's PR around its intent to make sure everyone on the internet is dressed appropriately.

I'm actually not taking the analogy too far. Let me explain.

Last week the Chinese government stepped up monitoring of the internet inside its borders. Hard to believe, right? It started with an anti-porn and anti-vulgarity censorship campaign on mobile devices back in 2009, but this new crackdown is on China's many popular microblogging sites (Twitter is a microblogging site).

China shut down 50 microblogs for alleged porn and "vulgarity" last Monday, and it's clear that China's State Internet Information Office doesn't like anything that offers Twitter-like functionality.

But it's okay if it's all about getting rid of dirty bad porn and sex work, and cyber crimes, right? Well, maybe for you.

Even if you don't like porn you should be worried when things get called porn. "Porn" is often code for stuff that authorities just don't like. It's an "if you're not against it, you're for it" move. Everyone's afraid to question accusations of porn and sex and obscenity, so it's a convenient foil for discrimination and censorship.

Most of the time, from Facebook to China, the thing that gets labeled "porn" or "obscenity" silently disappears. But consider that a lot of us who believe in the open internet also believe that sexual expression, sex education and artistic expression should remain part of protected, free speech, and you've got a problem that could get a lot bigger than China.

The method reveals the madness, and woe to the microbloggers. According to Reuters (China),

China's microbloggers showed their potency in a string of recent official scandals, particularly an online uproar in the wake of a high-speed bullet train crash in July that killed 40 people. Microbloggers led the charge in challenging rail officials' evasive accounts of the disaster.

Chinese state media have demanded that Internet companies, regulators and police do more to cleanse websites of "toxic rumors."

It passed largely under the radar. But I sat up a little straighter in my office chair when I also saw that China had just issued a strong appeal to the United Nations for a "global set of Internet rules."

The Chinese ambassador addressed the UN General Assembly on information and cyberspace security (they're in charge of international security), urging the move as a means toward a peaceful and more secure internet and the "well-being of mankind."

This is not to be confused with September's power play at the 66th session of the UN General Assembly. China (with Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) submitted an "International Code of Conduct for Information Security" to the UN, proposing rules for certain behaviors, information and cyber security.

China's microblogging purge raises serious questions about what kind of rules they'd like to see enforced in an internet "Code of Conduct." Keep in mind that China's been working this angle since at least 2005.

It was refreshing to see prudish Lady England come to her senses about internet censorship for a minute. This past week at The London Conference on Cyberspace the UK's Foreign Secretary strongly reacted to the 'Code of Conduct' proposal, saying that it would amount to government censorship.

That's why China is, like, so much more mortified right now with the U.S.' cybercrime report.

The report released to Congress yesterday outright named China and Russia as the main culprits of online industrial spying on the U.S. - the countries were named because the threat was apparently unusually definite.

Naturally, China's not having any of it; an embassy spokesperson lashed out at the report and denied China's involvement in any cyber crime activity.

China's just not going to win against the open internet.

If it were me, I'd just go home and change my sweater.

Image by Michael Mooney, under a Creative Commons 2.0 Generic license, via Flickr.

Topics: China, Browser, Social Enterprise

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67 comments
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  • RE: China Wants Its Hands All Over Your Internet

    China needs to stop the madness. Let your people have the freedoms other countries have. That's why you are so behind in many things because you are stiffling your own bread and butter growth with clout
    ajapierce
    • RE: China Wants Its Hands All Over Your Internet

      @ajapierce
      I'm prety sure that totalitarian China goverment will hear you, understand you, and will do as you tell them to do.
      przemoli
      • RE: China Wants Its Hands All Over Your Internet

        @przemoli

        You might be right, but i think everything i posted falls under their censorship rules!!!
        ajapierce
    • Other people have.... where?

      @ajapierce : the U.S.? Where censorship is disguised as "anti-piracy" laws...

      the E.U.? where the people are forced to abide to "Western" standards (aka can't use traditional Islam clothing)...

      Remember... everything's relative... for a Taliban a girl without her burka is as naked as Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction"... which would have been non-event on European television...

      On Venezuela and Brazil, girls can use thongs as usual, but they are banned from most U.S. beaches for "indecent" exposure...

      So there's no madness, just ultra zealots from other cultures which can't understand the differences in point of views...
      cosuna
      • RE: China Wants Its Hands All Over Your Internet

        @cosuna of course, political censorship IS a difference in point of views,,, sure. What are you even talking about? Are you sure you are not mixing the real life with internet? What is this nonsense about "western standards", burka, or thongs? Are they not allowed on internet?
        pupkin_z
      • Guess there's time you need to teach people how to read....

        @pupkin_z: <br>What I meant is the U.S. has nothing to teach the world about Internet liberty.<br><br>We have seen many times on ZDNet how Congress wants to pass a "kill-switch" in the event of a "cyber terror" attack.<br><br>Then there's E-PARASITE/SOPA which wishes to grant the MPAA and the RIAA the right to "block" (aka "censor") any site that they deem to have "piracy". <br><br>What's to stop the U.S. government from using those two "laws" to start censoring what they think is not appropriate.<br><br>How about, censoring the troubles at "Occupy Oakland".<br><br>Am not confusing the Internet with the world, but rather acknowledging that the censorship dynamic is far more complex than the author thinks.<br><br>Each country must decide what's wrong or wright for their people in regards to their own culture.<br><br>That's what I said, regardless of what you read.
        cosuna
      • RE: China Wants Its Hands All Over Your Internet

        @cosuna

        Well put.
        lindsaytheflint
      • The cultural relativism argument is an old one...

        @cosuna
        ...and a traditional tool of apologists for Communist and other sorts of dictatorships. It's no more convincing now than it was in the 1970s.

        Governments can, of course, do what they like within their own borders (subject to the cooperation of their own people), but the rest of the world doesn't have to go along.
        John L. Ries
      • RE: China Wants Its Hands All Over Your Internet

        @cosuna "What's to stop the U.S. government from using those two "laws" to start censoring what they think is not appropriate."

        Well, in the US we have these things called "elections" where our representatives have to win a popular vote to keep serving. So _we_ can stop them, any time we care enough to do it. Note that these measures keep getting introduced, but they don't (often) become actual laws.
        alflanagan
    • Umm... no?

      @ajapierce "That's why you are so behind in many things because you are stiffling your own bread and butter growth with clout"
      They're doing the best right now. If this was a race with every country in the world competing, China would be winning right now, and not by a little.
      I live in China and I know how arrogant the government is here. Just on a day to day basis, they think they know everything, own everything and invented everything, and while I hate them for many reasons, now is NOT the time to be forcing our ideals on them, especially over something as mundane as blocking a few microblogging sites.
      Naryan
      • RE: China Wants Its Hands All Over Your Internet

        @Naryan

        I agree with most of this, but I think the government control in China may be necessary for quite a while, in order to ensure a unified China. No more warring states.
        lindsaytheflint
      • RE: China Wants Its Hands All Over Your Internet

        @lindsaytheflint Dictatorships can always find a reason their measures are "necessary". That doesn't make it right or justifiable. "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety" -- Benjamin Franklin
        alflanagan
      • RE: China Wants Its Hands All Over Your Internet

        lindsaytheflint --

        Considering their oppressive tactics and clearly hostile actions (in real-space as well as cyberspace), a unified China is the LAST thing the world should want. Anything that causes trouble for the Chinese government is fine with me.

        As for government control of the internet being "necessary" to control dissent or "keep peace," the same argument could be used to excuse any atrocity imaginable.

        Get ALL governments EVERYWHERE out of people's private lives, their wallets, their businesses, their bedrooms, and their freedom to express themselves.

        We need far LESS government in the world, not more.
        Churlish
    • RE: China Wants Its Hands All Over Your Internet

      @ajapierce

      By telling China to "stop the madness", you are trying to impose your different world-view over the top of theirs. That's exactly the same thing as China trying to censor Internet sites in other countries.

      It is naive to apply the standards of one country to another. China would not be the emerging superpower it is today, if it had followed the same path as countries such as USA, UK, etc. Study the history of the country before you try to say what's best for its future.
      lindsaytheflint
      • RE: China Wants Its Hands All Over Your Internet

        lindsaytheflint --<br><br>Nonsense. You're operating under the false belief (sadly perpetuated by most institutions of higher learning) that all cultures are morally and ethically equivalent. As I've said already, this is nonsense.<br><br>Let's see, we'd like to "impose our different world-view" of freedom of expression, freedom from persecution, and due process of law on China. How horrible ... how dare we?<br><br>Before you accuse me of bias/racism/xenophobia, my statements are nothing of the sort. I think that China's growth can be attributed in part to an ambition on the part of its citizens that (unfortunately) seems to be the exception rather than the rule in the U.S. today.<br><br>Still, to view China's human rights abuses and history of repression as just a different, but morally-equivalent culture is ludicrous.<br><br>[b]Also, to clarify:[/b] I am not implying that the actions of the Chinese government are indicative of all Chinese people and culture. I believe that there, like elsewhere, people want to be free to live their lives, express their opinions, and share ideas that haven't been censored or screened. I am 100% in support of these people; I only oppose their government, which strives to deprive them (and, theoretically, us) of those same freedoms.
        Churlish
  • US accusing others of cyber threats..

    Now, that is the 'pot calling the kettle black'. US and Israel are the expects on cyber threats on others, including China.
    root12
    • RE: China Wants Its Hands All Over Your Internet

      @root12 But they're Communists!
      great-ish-soul
    • RE: China Wants Its Hands All Over Your Internet

      @root12 Hey head on over the Bejing I'm sure they would love to have you....let me know how you like your new country.
      ItsTheBottomLine
    • I'm pretty sure that, you're not being censored on your comments

      and on your rights to say anything, as long as it's not something that proposed to do harm to others, like threatening the president or committing libel against anyone.

      Other than the situations where you don't really have a right, you're absolutely free to state your mind. Try that in China or Cuba or Venezuela or North Korea or even in Russia, and try that in a Muslim controlled country.
      adornoe
  • RE: China Wants Its Hands All Over Your Internet

    "New revelations about industrial cyberspying and internal crackdowns on microblogs call into question Chinas motives to exert control over internet governance - and behave responsibly outside its borders in cyberspace."<br><br>NEW?<br><br>Try "known since the cold war . . ." -_-

    What China has been doing has been called into question since the last world war - okay, the media may be new (microblogging, etc), but the spy vs spy stuff isn't.
    CobraA1