from Asia Unbound

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December 17, 2009

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Censorship and Freedom of Expression

China has tightened controls on the Internet again, preventing individuals from registering with the .cn domain and closing more than 700 file sharing websites.

(laobaixing, literally the old hundred names, translates roughly to ordinary people).

The official reason is to control pornography and limit piracy, though the New York Times quotes an article by a public security minister describing how anti-Chinese forces use the web to destabilize society.

This has public backlash written all over it. The Great Firewall of China filters and censors a great deal of sensitive material, but the technologically savvy know how to get around it. Twitter, for example, is blocked in China, though Kai-Fu Lee, who left Google to start an innovation incubator, has over 740,000 followers on twitter.

The vast majority of Chinese, however, are not using the Web to find political material, but to contact friends and share movies and music. Closing file-sharing sites is hitting these people where they live, driving home the reality of censorship, a reality that they could before happily avoid.

The result will be that more people will discover more ways of getting around Chinese censors. This is what happened with Green Dam-Youth Escort, a filtering software the government insisted would have to be installed on all new computers, but then backed down in the face of resistance from ordinary users and companies.