China Tightens Web Controls to Knock Out Proxies, Google


2006.06.08
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April 12, 2006: Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google gestures as he tries a puzzle to change the name 'Google' to Chinese characters at a press conference in Beijing. Photo: AFP/Peter Parks

HONG KONG—China has tightened its already firm grip on the Internet, with a slew of new controls that make access to the Internet outside China harder than ever, Web users said Wednesday.

Chengdu-based Web site operator Deng Yongliang said Google’s international search engine, which the company left filter-free after agreeing with Beijing to allow censorship of its google.cn version, was now almost unusable.

“It’s been very difficult to get anything in recent weeks, around the anniversary of June 4,” Deng told RFA’s Mandarin service.

“Really I haven’t managed to get anything at all. It’s also been very hard to use any of the censorship-busting software like Dynapass and Freegate. Because the government has really been putting a lot of effort into cracking them,” he said.

“So we can’t get onto international Google, and we can’t use this software any more.”

Deng also complained that many e-mails to friends were no longer getting through, without specifying where the friends were in the world.

In the past, if I couldn’t get into international Google, I’d just use a proxy server. Now you can’t even get in with a proxy. I heard that access to proxy servers had been very effectively blocked now,

Yulun Jiandu

Deng’s account tallied with that of other Internet users within China.

Li Xinde, a citizen journalist whose Yulun Jiandu Web site is known for exposing official corruption, said the government was even managing to block the use of proxy servers, previously a handy loophole in the Great Firewall that surrounds China’s Internet users.

Press watchdog complains

“In the past, if I couldn’t get into international Google, I’d just use a proxy server. Now you can’t even get in with a proxy. I heard that access to proxy servers had been very effectively blocked now,” Li told RFA reporter Fang Yuan.

The Paris-based press freedom group, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said Tuesday that Internet users in many major Chinese cities had had difficulty in connecting to the uncensored international version of Google for the past week.

RSF linked the new and unprecedented levels of censorship to the 17th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown on June 4, which is already a banned keyword for Beijing’s system of filters.

It said the uncensored version of the search engine was totally inaccessible throughout the country on 31 May. The blocking then gradually extended to Google News and Google Mail. “So the Chinese public is now reduced to using the censored Chinese versions of these services,” it said.

“It was only to be expected that Google.com would be gradually sidelined after the censored version was launched in January,” RSF said.

“Google has just definitively joined the club of Western companies that comply with online censorship in China. It is deplorable that Chinese Internet users are forced to wage a technological war against censorship in order to access banned content.”

It said Beijing’s formidable Web police had also largely managed to neutralize software designed to sidestep censorship since 24 May.

Such software as Dynapass, Ultrasurf, Freegate, and Garden Networks is normally used by about 100,000 people in China to gain access to news and information that is blocked by the firewall isolating China from the rest of the World Wide Web, the group said.

But Li said he didn’t believe the new levels of filtering and censorship were directly connected to the June 4 anniversary.

“Yes, it’s a sensitive time,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s really connected to this. This has been going on for a long time now. As soon as the authorities succeed in blocking us, the anti-censorship software upgrades to a better version to get around them. And then the government manages to block it again, and it upgrades again.”

Municipal authorities in the capital Beijing have also revoked the licenses of six Web sites and temporarily shut down 12 Internet service providers for "rectification" during a 90-day city-wide crackdown.

More than 858,000 yuan (U.S.$107,000) in fines were collected from 35 Web sites and Internet service providers who allegedly violated Beijing regulations. Thirty unlicensed Internet cafes were also shut down and 446 computers confiscated.

Software engineers based abroad have been trying to update the censorship-busting programs on the basis of information they have received from Internet users inside China.

A new version of Dynapass was released a few days ago, but its effectiveness is still extremely limited, RSF said.

Original reporting in Mandarin by Fang Yuan. RFA Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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