'No Reply' on Bid for China Online Surveillance Data

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A Chinese netizen uses a microblogging service in a rural village in Guizhou province, Dec. 15, 2012.
A Chinese netizen uses a microblogging service in a rural village in Guizhou province, Dec. 15, 2012.

UPDATED at 01:50 p.m. EST on 2013-07-01

China's police ministry has yet to respond to a request from a Beijing rights lawyer to make public details of the ruling Communist Party's online surveillance tactics.

Revelations by former U.S. security contractor Edward Snowden that the United States engaged in large-scale data-mining of overseas e-mails, phone calls, and social media via its "Prism" operation prompted lawyer Xie Yanyi to pen an open letter calling for greater transparency over China's monitoring of the Internet.

"The exposure of the U.S. government’s infringement on individual privacy in its unrestrained surveillance of private information, such as citizen’s e-mail correspondence and Internet communications, has triggered public uproar in the United States and the world," Xie wrote in a letter posted on the overseas-based website Canyu.org.

"The Edward Snowden case has greatly damaged the national image of the U.S. and at the same time raised widespread public concern over civil rights and individual privacy," the letter said.

Xie then requested public disclosure of "detailed measures" used by China's Ministry of Public Security when conducting surveillance of Chinese citizens’ personal privacy and Internet communications.

His letter also requests details of official procedures for approving Internet surveillance, and a list of parties that are legally and politically responsible.

Xie also asked police to reveal how the government guards against abuse of power under the system, which has been referred to as the Golden Shield.

"The Ministry of Public Security hasn't got back to me yet," Xie said in a recent interview after posting the letter on Tuesday.

Warned by police

Instead, his letter prompted a phone call from his local police station. "The person who called me said they were from the Chaoyang District police department in Beijing, and his surname was Ning," Xie said.

He said the officer had tried to persuade Xie not to go ahead with his request, warning that the police could "pursue legal responsibility" over the request.

Xie, who works at the Kaitai law firm in Beijing, said Chinese citizens have been increasingly questioning government control over the Internet in recent years, in particular the complex system of filters, blocks, and human censorship known as the "Great Firewall."

"For example [they want to know] what projects the government is running and what data they are collecting from the Internet," he said.

"People are beginning to realize how important information rights are, and of course public agencies are doing everything they can to expand their power in all directions."

"They may well have unwittingly infringed on the rights of citizens," Xie said.'

'A way of life'

Fujian-based blogger Fan Yanqiong, who was jailed in 2009 after writing online about suspicions surrounding the death of local woman Yan Xiaoling, whose mother said she was gang-raped by local officials, said surveillance has become a way of life for her.

"They have been using specialist professionals to monitor me using the Internet for a long time now," Fan said in an interview this week.

"People under this sort of surveillance have no privacy, and we are totally helpless," she said. "There's nothing we can do about it."

Overseas blogger and rights activist Wen Yunchao, who has suffered repeated hacking of his his Gmail, Twitter accounts, and personal phone, told the Congressional-Executive Commission on China this week that the cyberspying could only be the result of official coordination.

"I hope that the U.S. Congress and government will recognize such cyberattacks against human rights defenders as human rights persecution, and impose sanctions and visa restriction on organizations, companies, and their employees who engage in such malicious activities," Wen said.

Snowden's flight to Moscow from his previous hiding-place in Hong Kong has strained ties between the United States and both China and Russia.

Beijing on Thursday accused Washington of hypocrisy over cybersecurity.

"This 'double standard' approach is not conducive to peace and security in cyberspace," the official Xinhua news agency quoted defense ministry spokesman Yang Yujun as saying.

Meanwhile, a top U.S. military officer said that "all nations on the face of the planet always conduct intelligence operations in all domains."

"China's particular niche in cyber has been theft and intellectual property." Reuters quoted Army General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as saying.

"Their view is that there are no rules of the road in cyber, there's nothing, there's no laws they are breaking, there's no standards of behavior."

Reported by Ho Shan for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Yang Fan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the commission before which Wen Yunchao testified.





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