China Expands Use of Cybercops

From this week’s Rights & Wrongs:

CHINA COPS EXPAND VIRTUAL BEAT — Chinese authorities are once again poised to demonstrate their aptitude for creating programs to monitor even the most minute details of Chinese citizens’ lives. When the people of Beijing turn on their computers this weekend, they will be greeted by two new faces — one male and one female — cybercops designed to remind Internet users to avoid sites featuring “objectionable” material and encouraging them to report any illicit activity.

The two cartoon characters will bike, walk or drive across a user’s screen every 30 minutes as a friendly, engaging reminder of Chinese authorities’ Orwellian bent. Should a user feel he/she is in need of assistance, the virtual officers are on duty 24/7 and one click on their countenance will redirect the user to the Beijing Public Security Ministry. A live response is guaranteed in 30 minutes or less, according to the state-run newspaper China Daily. To begin with, the cybercops will operate on 13 Beijing Internet portals, but the program is expected to be expanded to cover all Beijing site and forums by the end of the year.

Shenzen in Guangdong province began using similar so-called Jingcha (“police”) in January 2006 to help educate citizens about Chinese laws and regulations governing Internet use. China has worked very hard to limit access to Internet content it finds either obscene of subversive. However, pornographic and gambling sites, as well as sites where pirated movies, books and music can be downloaded have proliferated.

The introduction of the Jingcha in Beijing comes less than a week after German Chancellor Angela Merkel raised questions about China’s human rights record during an official visit. Merkel warned that “the world will be looking at China with increased scrutiny” as the 2008 Olympics approach.

For past issues of Rights & Wrongs, see here. For more on the issue of state censorship and control of the Internet, see the following WPR items:

Blogosphere Remains Political Battleground | WPR blog Aug. 20, 2007
Yahoo’s China Woes Continue (scroll down to item No. 4) | WPR June 16, 2007
As Battle for Internet Control Continues, State Censors Play an
Increasing Part | WPR June 1, 2007
Blogging the New Arab Public: Arab Blogs’ Political Influence Will Grow | WPR April 10, 2007
Citing Cyberterrorism Threat, Russia Explores Internet Controls | WPR Dec. 14, 2006
Press Freedom Group Tests Cuban Internet Surveillance | WPR Nov. 8, 2006
A Year After Yahoo! Incident, Internet Freedom Controversy Continues | WPR Oct. 13, 2006
Digital Walls, Digital Holes | WPR June 28, 2006