It's been suggested that a wave of online censorship was enforced over Chinese citizens during a recent Communist Party meeting. This authoritative muffling of free speech might come as little surprise, but the fact that it could extend beyond China's borders is sure to be unsettling.
If repressive regimes have their way at the upcoming ITU discussions, this restrictive governance of Internet use could become commonplace for citizens worldwide. Join us alongside a multi-national coalition of pro-Internet organizations in speaking out at ProtectInternetFreedom.net.
Article by Jennifer Duggan for Al Jazeera
It was by design, certainly no accident, that the Chinese Communist Party 18th Congress went off without a hitch.
As in past decades, the Congress was a tightly controlled and scripted event.
In Beijing, a ban was imposed on the sale of knives and toy airplanes, the latter apparently over fears that anti-government leaflets might be sent flying.
Taxi drivers were ordered to disable the back the windows of their vehicles, so passengers intending to spread subversive messages inside balloons and ping pong balls could not toss them out.
"Look for passengers who intend to spread messages by carrying balloons that bear slogans or ping-pong balls bearing reactionary messages," read a notice to taxi drivers that was posted on microblog Sina Weibo.
But it was not just physical restrictions imposed. On the internet, there were developments that suggest Chinese authorities increased online censorship efforts to keep any dissent at bay.
Last week, Google's transparency report - which gives information about the "flow of information" related to its tools and services - showed a sharp drop in traffic from China.
The China-based website GreatFire.org, which monitors the internet in the country, reported a number of Google websites, including the search engine and Google mail, were "DNS poisoned in China". DNS stands for Domain Name System, the database that makes the internet work.
Founder of GreatFire.Org, Martin Johnson, a pseudonyn he uses to protect his identity, said the blocking of Google websites was "unprecedented". Johnson believes the action was taken by Chinese censors.
"We don't know exactly what is going on, but I don't think it was a mistake because all Google websites were unblocked shortly after [the Congress ended]. Maybe they were afraid of the reactions to it or maybe they were just testing it," said Johnson.
Google did not respond to a request for a comment, nor did key Chinese officials. In the past, however, officials have explained their committment to information control.
"While safeguarding a good internet market order, the improved management [of the internet] aims to stop the spread of harmful information online and clean cyber space," Miao Wei, China's minister for industry and information technology told a conference in September.
History of censorship
Many foreigners in China rely on programmes called virtual private networks (VPN) to circumnavigate what is popularly called the "Great Chinese Firewall" in order to access blocked websites.
In recent weeks, a number of companies that provide VPN services have reported interference and blocks in China. At least one VPN company linked these problems to the Congress in Beijing.
"These have been the most draconian few days of internet restrictions I have experienced," Bill Bishop, an American living in China since 2005, wrote in a column in The New York Times on Monday.
Internet censorship in China is nothing new and many websites, including Facebook and Twitter, are permanently blocked.
With more than 500 million internet users, China has the largest online population in the world. But according to the independent watchdog Freedom House, the Chinese government:
"…maintains an elaborate apparatus for censoring and monitoring Internet and mobile-telephone communications. The authorities block websites or force deletion of content they deem politically threatening, and detain those who post such information."
Johnson - a China-based American - said he believes if there was no censorship, the government, "would lose power".
"They have been very good at censorship every since they came to power. It is one of the big constants," he said. Read more »