HONG KONG—Chinese authorities in Tibet have ordered Internet cafes across the region to finish installing state-of-the-art surveillance systems by the end of the month, industry sources and local media said.
"All the Internet cafes must now install it," said Chen Jianying, head of the customer service department of the industry group Internet Cafes Online.
"This is a nationwide policy which is part of the implementation of the real-name registration system," Chen said.
According to a report carried on the official China Tibet News website last week titled "Long-range Surveillance of the Internet," all computers installed in enterprises that offer services to the public must install the system.
The proprietor of an Internet cafe in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, which is still under tight security following widespread Tibetan unrest beginning in March 2008, confirmed the scheme is already in full swing.
He said he had already been to the police station for training in how to run the system.
"The system should be up and running now," the business owner said. "I heard the technical people saying that the last time I attended a meeting."
"It's pretty convenient because they can configure it directly from higher up if the guidelines change."
He said the new system will mean tighter online controls.
"If there is something that is being controlled, there's no way anyone will get to see it. It's definitely a tighter form of control," he said.
The China Tibet News website also reported that the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) government has already inaugurated its long-range surveillance system.
Calls to the cultural department of the TAR government went unanswered during office hours Friday.
Local media also reported that the department has dispatched engineers throughout Tibet to install the new system in individual Internet cafes, and to train business owners and technical staff in its operation.
Funding is already in place for the project, and all Internet cafes in the region are now effectively implementing a real-name registration system.
Under the nationwide scheme, which took effect Aug. 1, second-generation identity cards belonging to the person using the Internet must be swiped to allow online access. Viewed content can then be traced back to that identity, using the the surveillance system.
One of the touted benefits of the scheme is that it aims to prevent minors from accessing inappropriate content online.
But Zhang Tianliang, an electronic engineer and professor at George Mason University, said he believes there is another motive behind the move.
"There has to be a question mark over why the government is installing such a surveillance system in Tibet right now," Zhang said.
"The Chinese Communist Party has always used cleaning up pornography as an excuse."
Retired Nanjing University professor and civil rights activist Sun Wenguang agreed.
"You can't control young people on the Internet," Sun said. "Of course their parents can exercise appropriate guidance."
"The starting point of the whole real-name registration policy is that they are afraid that [viewers] will see content from outside China, content that they are trying to block," he added.
"Real-name registration will limit the amount of external information that young people are able to see, and I think that is undesirable."
Original reporting in Mandarin by He Ping and Yang Jiadai and in Cantonese by Hai Nan. Translated from the Chinese and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.