Hong Kong Activist Says Chinese Hackers Read His E-mails


2005-07-02
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July 1, 2005. Thousands take to the streets demanding a greater say in the running of Hong Kong, although numbers fell sharply from last year's turnout of half a million. Photo: AFP/Mike Clarke

HONG KONG—A Hong Kong activist who has organized several mass marches for more democracy since the 1997 handover to China, says hackers from within mainland China have tampered with his e-mail account, raising fears that Beijing's Internet police are extending their reach to the former British colony.

Chong Yiu-kwong, a key figure in the Civil Human Rights Front, said problems had begun with his private University of Hong Kong e-mail account in around April last year, when Beijing made a controversial ruling against full and direct elections for the territory in 2007 and 2008.

"I didn’t know that my computer had been monitored ever since, until I found that all my e-mails from the account registered to the University of Hong Kong disappeared all of a sudden," Chong told RFA's Cantonese service.

"I approached the computer center of Hong Kong University. They told me that my account had been monitored by three different IP addresses from China and that information from the account had been downloaded every few minutes," he said.

They told me that my account had been monitored by three different IP addresses from China and that information from the account had been downloaded every few minutes.

Chong said he changed his password, and nothing happened for a while.

"But the hacker reappeared on June 7. I thought this was not good, and notified Hong Kong University and also reported it to the police," he told RFA.

Appeal for investigation

Law Yuk-kai, executive director of Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor, called on the Chinese and Hong Kong authorities to investigate Chong's case.

"According to article four of the Basic Law, the Hong Kong SAR shall safeguard the rights and freedoms of the residents of Hong Kong," he told RFA.

"The Hong Kong government has the responsibility to safeguard this right. Since the Basic Law is part of Chinese law, all departments within China should respect and act according to the Basic Law and help the Hong Kong government on this."

China last month launched a massive nationwide recruitment drive to find tech-savvy individuals to help eliminate "undesirable content" on the Internet on behalf of the police.

The key to the filtering system...is automated technology...enabling China's service providers to enter hundreds of thousands of banned keywords and Web addresses for automatic blocking.

While official media emphasize pornography and fraud as targets of the government's online surveillance program, U.S. software giant Microsoft recently admitted it would purge politically sensitive content from personal Web logs—or blogs—offered to users within China.

Search engine Google has already tailored its Chinese product to exclude subject-matter deemed undesirable Beijing, such as overseas news organizations, human rights groups and Chinese democracy activists overseas.

U.S. companies help Chinese censors

Meanwhile, U.S. tech giant Cisco is supplying the Chinese government with equipment that is capable of filtering any news and views not acceptable to the Chinese Communist Party, independent researchers say.

Ethan Gutmann, in his book Losing the New China: A Story of American Commerce, Desire and Betrayal , reports a conversation with a Cisco salesman at a technology fair in China:

"The Cisco salesman confirmed that the Chinese police could even remotely check if the suspect had built or contributed to a Web site in the last three months, access the suspect's surfing history, and read his email," Gutmann wrote. Cisco has denied Gutmann's allegations.

The Chinese authorities now use "an increasingly sophisticated set of mechanisms through which Chinese internet users are prevented from accessing material deemed off-limits by the Chinese government," a recent study by the Open Net Initiative (ONI), in conjunction with Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, has found.

According to Berkman Center research fellow Rebecca MacKinnon: "Though government statements emphasize anti-pornography crackdowns, ONI found the primary focus of China's filtering system to be on political content."

"The key to the filtering system, however, is automated technology–equipment and software courtesy of U.S. companies–enabling China's service providers to enter hundreds of thousands of banned keywords and Web addresses for automatic blocking," MacKinnon wrote in an article in YaleGlobal 's online edition.

Original reporting in Cantonese by Martin Wong. RFA Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Produced for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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