China Censors Mobile Phone Users


Biggest mobile phone firm says it will screen text messages

HONG KONG — ; Chinese authorities aim to use new technology to improve surveillance of mobile phone messages as they step up efforts to police private communications, state-run media report.

The official Xinhua News Agency said the campaign was aimed at cleaning up "pornographic, obscene and fraudulent" phone messages it said had "infiltrated short messaging content."

The Paris-based group Reporters Without Borders said the surveillance also aims to keep an eye on political dissent via mobile phone messaging.

It said one Chinese company marketing a system to monitor mobile phone text messages has announced it is watching for "false political rumors" and "reactionary remarks."

Venus Info Tech Ltd said in a press release that its surveillance system worked by filtering algorithms based on key words and combinations of key words.

Beijing already screens e-mail, censors online chatrooms, and blocks access to foreign Web sites considered subversive.

But text messaging is a newer technology and the government has struggled to develop ways to control it.

Xinhua didn't directly mention politically unacceptable messages, but it noted that violent text messages or those that could "harm economic interests" were also cause for concern. It also said providers of phone and Internet services were expected to participate on a basis of "self-discipline."

During the SARS outbreak last year, some people were arrested on charges of causing panic by spreading what it said were "rumors" about the disease through text messages even as the government was still denying its existence.

The Beijing Daily Messenger newspaper reported separately that China's biggest mobile phone company will start screening text messages for pornographic content.

The paper didn't say how China Mobile would screen messages sent by its 153 million customers, or whether it also would target politically oriented messages.

The company says customers sent 40 billion messages last year.

But Chinese software makers reportedly are trying to develop tools to allow instantaneous screening of the millions of text messages sent every day by Chinese.

The Chinese government has teams of censors to monitor Web sites for content deemed pornographic or subversive.

The government blocks access to some foreign sites run by dissidents, human rights groups and news organizations.

In May, television stations were ordered to cut back on faddish clothing in broadcasts and shun foreign programming with too much sex and violence.

Makers of video games played online were ordered to submit new products for official censorship.


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