WASHINGTON, June 7 (UPI) -- Chinese authorities have forced the operators of all Web sites operating within the country to register with the government, including bloggers.
The Chinese Ministry of Information announced last March it would require registration beginning in June in order to prevent "unhealthy" or fraudulent activities. Such activities include publishing anti-government or dissident information, the ministry said on its Web site, www.mii.gov.cn/mii.
"If you have not registered by June, then your Web site could be ordered shut down," the Web site said.
The new regulations encompass all public-domain Internet access, including personal, commercial and government sites.
According to the Ministry, over 74 percent of Chinese Web sites have been registered.
The Web site and blog-registration campaign is part of a wider initiative commonly known among the Internet savvy as "The Great Firewall of China," a term coined by reporter Charles R. Smith that implies China uses tactics to avert the free exchange of electronic information.
Official statistics posted by the Information Ministry indicate the number of Internet users in China has grown phenomenally in the past few years -- from 59.1 million to the current 120 million -- though still only about 10 percent of the population, estimated at 1.3 billion.
"(Internet use) is exploding in China and (the Chinese government is) adapting at tremendously rapid rates," Milton Mueller, a professor of information studies at Syracuse University in Syracuse, N.Y., told United Press International.
Despite China's rising number of online users and the challenges they present to the government's efforts, censorship has prevailed and flourished, according to reports from the OpenNet Initiative, a watchdog group and advocate for free exchange on the Internet. The initiative is a collaborative effort of Harvard University, the University of Toronto and Cambridge University that tackled Chinese Internet censorship in a report published last April entitled, "Internet Filtering in China in 2004-2005."
More than a dozen different agencies monitor Internet activities in China, and Amnesty International estimates that up to 30,000 Internet police are working to filter Web traffic flowing through local service providers. More specific information about such activities has been difficult to obtain, according to the OpenNet Initiative
The Xinhua News Agency reported that since 1995 the Chinese government has policed online users with methods such as closing Internet cafes, blocking e-mails, granting limited access to Internet portals, banning Web sites deemed politically offensive and restricting search engines.
"There is a large undetermined number of Internet police that monitor chat rooms, discussion forums and Web content," Derek Bambauer, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School and part of the OpenNet Initiative, told UPI.
A recent story in the Financial Times in London explained that most Internet traffic in and out of China is sent through a backbone of routers located in a few major cities such as Shanghai and Beijing, making filtration of e-content easier.
"China's legal enforcement measures concentrate primarily on the creation and dissemination of content rather than its retrieval," John Palfrey, executive director of the Berkman Center, said in a statement.
The Chinese government uses domain-name-system hijacking, a method by which users are rerouted from an original Web address to an alternate page or Web site. Last August, for example, Berkman Center researchers began testing Google's accessibility through real-time observation of locations throughout China. They found that users accessing the Web site were rerouted to other Web addresses with a search format similar to Google's.
Chinese officials re-established accessibility the following month, however.
Although China clearly is attempting to filter information, Bambauer said he thinks there may be too much of an assumption that all filtration is the result of government intervention.
"China is very open," he said, "but officially almost always silent on its blocking of Internet sites. When it is silent, it makes the state seem more powerful and there is a tendency to take any problem with access as a result of government filtering."
China's issues with censorship span beyond the country's borders. Chinese ISPs also provide service to outlying countries such as Vietnam, North Korea, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.
Palfrey said he thinks the Chinese Internet squeeze could have wide-ranging global consequences.
"The ramifications of this censorship regime should be of concern to anyone who believes in participatory democracy -- online and offline," Palfrey said in a statement.
"China's growing Internet population ... will soon overtake the United States as the single largest national group of Internet users. How the Chinese government restricts its citizens' online interactions is significantly altering the global Internet landscape," Palfrey's statement continued.
China's Internet users are at risk for detention, torture, and even execution depending on the nature and severity of offenses, Amnesty International wrote in a news release in late 2002. The Chinese government sentenced Li Dawei, a former Chinese police officer, to 11 years in prison for downloading articles from Chinese democracy Web sites abroad, the organization reported.
Dawei eventually was released earlier this year.
Two other prisoners who were detained for Internet-related offenses died in custody, apparently due to ill treatment or at the hands of police, Amnesty International reported.
China's future in maintaining its current stranglehold on its Internet community has yet to be determined. As Internet technologies expand -- along with China's Internet population -- officials seem willing to adapt to changes that would allow continued censorship.
Bambauer said he thinks expanding technologies will keep the Chinese government on its toes.
"There is an arms race in China between technologies and government measures," he said. "Based on the extraordinary level of attention that (the Chinese government has) put into the Internet filtering system, it is a priority and one they will continue to work on."
Ray Pregeant is an intern for UPI Science News. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org