China Boosts ‘Great Firewall’

China scores a tactical victory in its war on Web sites the government doesn't like.

china-internet-305.jpg Customers surf the Web at an Internet bar in Beijing, Jan. 15, 2009.

HONG KONG—China has successfully undermined key software used by its netizens to climb over the “Great Firewall,” a sophisticated system of government-backed blocks and filters designed to limit what people can view online.

“Right now, basically, the network is not stable because of the blocking. It started probably Sept. 1,” said Bill Xia, CEO of Dynamic Internet Technology, which created Freegate to circumvent government blocking.
“Since last Monday, we saw that it got worse and people started to find it more difficult to use the Freegate software—it may have difficulty connecting to our network or after it gets connected then very soon they get disconnected,” he said in an interview.

“It is getting close to National Day, so probably the government is spending more effort in trying to clampdown control of the Internet, at least around this time,” he said. “They’re trying more and more to block our software.”

'Great Firewall'

Chinese Internet users have been complaining since last week that it is getting harder to circumvent the Great Firewall, known online simply as “GFW.”

“I have been using Freegate for many years, but have never experienced anything like this, not even during last year’s Olympics,” said Sichuan-based online writer Ran Yunfei.

“[Freegate] used to be very fast, but in the last two days, it has become unstable,” he said.

The Chinese Human Rights Defenders Web site reported last week that most Freegate users in Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu, Hebei, Sichuan, Shandong, and Helongjiang were unable to log in.

But Xia said his company is working on a newer version of Freegate, to be released next week.

“We have been working on a new release for awhile because of the situation, so we are accelerating the process. We are targeting releasing a new version in one or two weeks,” Xia said.

‘No service’

And Liu Yiming, an online writer and Internet expert from Hubei, said he has also encountered problems with the effectiveness of Freegate.

“When I use Freegate, it says that no service can be found. The same thing happens when I use Ultrareach Browsing,” Liu said.

Liu said the problems are likely related to Beijing’s bid to step up Internet controls ahead of a sensitive political anniversary on Oct. 1.

As China’s Communist Party gears up for lavish military celebrations marking its 60th anniversary in power, netizens have also reported problems using Chinese versions of the micro-blogging service, Twitter.

Twitter equivalents Fanfou, Jiwai, and Digu were recently shut down, forcing many Internet users to migrate to Twitter, bloggers said.

And when leading Chinese Internet portal launched its own Twitter-like service, Sina Micro Bo, users complained of too many controls.

Registration required

To sign up to the service, users must receive a registration invitation containing a password.

The operators further limit users’ freedom by strictly monitoring comment boards manually and through the use of automatic filters.

Guo Weidong, a Sina Micro Bo user known as “Daxa,” said he is no longer using the service.

“After submitting a few posts through this account, I didn’t feel like using it any more,” Guo said. “The content monitor is too strict.”

The controls on Sina Micro Bo are consistent with attempts by Beijing to impose real-name user registration on all of China’s netizens, making anonymous Web surfing much more difficult.

One Web user in the southwestern city of Chengdu said local Internet cafes are now requiring national identity cards before allowing customers to log on.

“Last year I was able to use the Internet cafes without any ID,” the user said.

 “This time, they require second generation ID with data that can just be swiped in.”

Controls over Chinese Internet users are intensifying ahead of the Oct. 1 National Day holiday, the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

Internet café owners announced last week that they would “fully cooperate” with government security measures.

Forum shut down

An online forum run by a group of college students in central China’s Hunan province was shut down last week, sparking anger among netizens posting elsewhere.

“Since Sept. 7, we have been calling the service provider to inquire about the reason, and they said it was due to an illegal post and other illegal information on the forum,” Gong Dawang forum manager Ouyang Yu said.

He said the “illegal” post was an article critical of Zhuzhou Telecom, which since the beginning of the new school year had hiked its broadband charges and imposed restrictions on users.

The press office of China’s State Council last Friday warned Sina and online message service QQ to exercise “caution” in reporting criminal cases.

“The recent controls are probably the most severe ever,” citizen journalist Zhou Shuguang said. “Censorship is always there but recently it has been enforced drastically.”

Government-backed Internet Café Associations in 30 major Chinese cities and provinces also issued a statement last week titled “Self-regulating declaration on cleaning up the Internet café industry,” vowing to abide by China’s laws and regulations concerning the Internet.

Original reporting in Mandarin by Xin Yu and Ma Ya, and in English by Joshua Lipes. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated by Chen Ping. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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