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China Boosts Surveillance

September 7, 2010

Radio Free Asia (RFA)
September 2, 2010

A Chinese paramilitary policeman watches
Tiananmen Square in Beijing, March 4, 2010.

HONG KONG -- Chinese netizens have reacted with
shock and anger to online reports detailing a
nationwide plan to step up surveillance of people
the government considers a risk to social stability.

Meanwhile, authorities began this week to
implement a new registration process requiring
cell phone users to present identification when purchasing new phones.

Zhejiang-based blogger Guo Weidong, known online
by his nickname "Daxa," said he recently caught a
glimpse of an official screen displaying his name
on a dissident watchlist after he swiped his
second-generation national identity card at a railway station.

"I swiped my card that afternoon, and I
discovered that there was a reference to the
social stability system at the bottom," Guo said.
"I asked what stability protection meant, and was
told that it had to do with having a file at the local police station."

Next to the words "stability protection" on the
screen was the name of a contact at his local
police station together with a cell phone number,
presumably belonging to an officer responsible
for watching him, said Guo, who frequently posts
material on social media that is critical of China's ruling Communist Party.

China is home to more than 400 million Web users
and more than 50 million bloggers, all of whom
are frequently subjected to censorship by their Internet service providers.

Guo wrote about his experience on the
microblogging service Twitter, which is blocked
in China to those unfamiliar with the technology
needed to get around government filters, known
collectively as the "Great Firewall."

Netizens responded by comparing the security
measures to measures described in George Orwell's
classic novel 1984 and to the blacklist kept by
the Stasi secret police in the former East Germany.

Stability regime

On Monday, Chinese social media also circulated a
document detailing a nationwide "stability
protection" regime linked by computer, and
ranking people considered threats to social order into grades A, B, or C.

According to the document, posted originally on
the website of Chunxiao township in the eastern
city of Ningbo, authorities have already used the
system to block petitioners and rights activists
attempting to travel to Shanghai to stage protests during the World Expo.

'A' grade security threats are put under 24-hour
surveillance by local police stations supervised
by a central management office, the document
states, while 'B' grade threats are watched by informants in their hometowns.

'C' grade threats are asked to sign guarantee
letters of good behavior and are required to
register with police if they leave town.

An official who answered the phone at the
Chunxiao township government denied the document exists.

"No, there's no such thing," the official said, before hanging up the phone.

Half an hour after the phone call, the document
was no longer visible on the government website,
with only a blank page at the same address.

Shanghai-based rights activist Feng Zhenghu said
the document was probably posted online by
accident by local officials unaware of the need for secrecy.

Cell phone registration

Meanwhile, new rules taking effect this week
state that Chinese people must use their personal
identification to register for new cell phone
service, according to a statement issued by
China's Ministry of Information Industry (MII).

Government officials say the new system will
reduce the number of spam messages being sent to
Chinese cell phone users. But Hubei-based online
commentator Liu Yiming said he doubts this was the real reason for the move.

"It's really to stop text messages with sensitive
content from being passed around from person to person," Liu said.

According to the MII statement, the real-name
registration system for mobile phones will take effect from this Wednesday.

"Any customer wishing to buy a SIM card from a
kiosk will have to take their national identity
card with them to do this," the ministry said in a statement.

A second phase, requiring existing cell phone
customers to re-register with their ID cards will
take three years to implement across the country, the ministry said.

Beijing Technical University professor Hu Xingdou
said that authorities should beware of infringing
people's personal rights and freedoms.

"In China, this is being implemented for reasons
of so-called national security and social
stability," Hu said. "It's not because of junk messaging."

Hu said citizens' rights are more important than
social stability or national security.

"We will only see true social stability when we
start to respect [them], and I think China really
needs to pay special attention to this issue," Hu said.

Blogs targeted

Chinese authorities are also pressuring Internet
service providers into censoring the online
postings of well-known activists, sources said.

Internet giants Sina, Sohu, and NetEase have
already agreed to appoint censorship czars
charged with weeding out pornography and violent
and politically sensitive material, local media reported.

Censors will also be responsible for monitoring
the content of news articles from online media.

Zhang Tieniu, a social media activist based in
the southeastern province of Fujian, filed a
lawsuit Aug. 27 against one of China's  biggest
Internet service providers for deleting his blog.

"This is an action which violates the rights of
citizens," said Zhang, whose online nickname is "Chemo."

"They have also blocked off access to the hearts
and minds of a lot of Chinese netizens."

Zhang said that the blogs of prominent rights
lawyer Pu Zhiqiang and activists Liu Xiaoyuan and
Si Ning, among many others, have also been blocked.

The relative speed of the microblogging
servers had attracted a lot of users to the site, he said.

"But Sina is a second Xinhua," he said, referring
to China's state-controlled news service.

"It is the second main Web portal of the Chinese
Communist Party, so I am taking individual legal
action against them," Zhang added.

Zhang said that before his blog was deleted, he
had published more than 350 articles online and
had provided more than 2,000 links to friends' sites and videos.

Original reporting in Mandarin by Xin Yu and Ding
Xiao and in Cantonese by Lin Jing. Translated and
written in English by Luisetta Mudie and Joshua Lipes.
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