Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong are forcing local cafes and restaurants offering public wifi to install police-approved routers to connect to the internet, in a move local residents say is aimed at further restricting what they can see or do online.
A directive issued to businesses in a technology development park in Shandong's coastal city of Qingdao said the move was in accordance with counter-terrorism and national security measures in the cybersecurity law.
"Any public place offering an internet connection must install ... an internet security management system," the directive tells business owners.
Business owners must pay a 100 yuan deposit, but the authorities will come to their premises and install a new router for no additional charge, the directive says.
It said the move is in keeping with requirements under the cybersecurity law being rolled out by police departments across the country.
"You may not [refuse this service]," the notice says, adding that the measures are aimed at "preventing the dissemination of all forms of harmful content."
An employee who answered the phone at the helpline number given on the notice confirmed the move.
"The government will supply [the routers] to businesses," the employee said. "This isn't being installed in people's homes, but the government is ensuring that businesses all have the same [router] installed across the board."
The rules mostly apply to restaurants and cafes where people use the business' wifi account to get online, the employee said.
"Connection speeds will not be affected, and your online experience will be unaffected," the directive promises.
'Aimed at controlling citizens online'
But a local business owner surnamed Sun said the government wants to make it much harder for China's internet users to circumvent its complex system of blocks, filters and human censorship known as the Great Firewall.
"I saw the directive, and I think it's clearly aimed at controlling citizens online," Sun said. "Once you have their router installed, you definitely won't be able to get over the Great Firewall, and any content you post online will be monitored."
"It's clear that they are tightening their grip on the internet, so that every aspect of people's lives will be monitored," he said.
Any businesses that refuse to comply with the changes will be pursued under cybersecurity legislation, the directive warns.
Last October, police in the southern province of Guangdong questioned human rights activist Zhang Weichu after she bought a router enabling her to scale the Great Firewall, telling her she had violated the country's cybersecurity law.
The officers, who said they were from the cybersecurity team of the Guangzhou police department, told Zhang that circumvention routers were illegal.
Zhang had bought a KF router licensed for sale in China to companies and organizations needing to do business online with clients and customers overseas.
The crackdown on circumvention technology comes amid media reports that a Guangdong-based company, Bell New Vision, is developing the nationwide "Sharp Eyes" platform that can link up public surveillance cameras and those installed in smart devices in the home, to a nationwide network for viewing in real time by anyone who is given access.
"Sharp Eyes" comes from a ruling Chinese Communist Party slogan, "the people have sharp eyes," which traditionally relied on the eyes and ears of local neighborhood committees to keep tabs on what its people were up to.
Using the network, police and other officials will be able to monitor people's activities in their own homes, wherever there is an internet-connected camera, according to the official Legal Daily newspaper.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.