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China Ramps Up Online Censorship, To No One's Surprise

internet cafe in beijing
China has always maintained tight control over what its citizens read and write online. But according to the New York Times, the Leviathan of governmental censorship seems to be digging its tentacles even deeper into the lives of mainland Web surfers.

In the wake of the Middle East protests, the Chinese regime has only ratcheted up its surveillance and censorship of electronic communications in an attempt to quell even the slightest hint of anti-government sentiment. On Sunday, Google accused the government of blocking or disrupting its Gmail service within the country, and of blaming the interruption on technical errors. (China, for what it's worth, says Google's claims are "unacceptable.")

Even China's virtual private-network services (VPNs) have shown signs of frailty. Many Chinese Internet users rely on VPNs to circumvent the regime's online controls, but the government now seems to be interfering with those, as well. The widespread disruption has elicited complaints from users young and old in the country, but official explanations have been hard to come by. WiTopia, a popular VPN provider, recently apologized for the glitches, which the company attributed to "increased blocking attempts," without acknowledging governmental tampering.

China still blocks pages and information about Tibet or other politically sensitive issues, but it's begun censoring relatively innocuous sites, as well. A tech consultant in Beijing told the Times that, for several days, he couldn't access the website for the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. Before that, the government blocked LinkedIn due to calls for protests across the mainland. "The technology is improving and the range of sensitive terms is expanding because the depth and breadth of things they must manage just keeps on growing," said Hu Yong, a media professor at Peking University.

Even longtime residents have been taken aback by the government's recent crackdown. "It has been double the guard, and double the guard, and you never hear proclamations about things being relaxed," said BDA China chairman Duncan Clark, who has been living in China for 17 years. "We have never seen this level of control in the time I have been here, and I have been here since the beginning of the Internet."

And, with the Communist Party slated to see a change in leadership next year, Internet expert Bill Bishop worries that the regime's grip could only tighten in the months to come, in order to control the transition. "There's a lot more they can do," Bishop said, "but they've been holding back."

Tags: censorship, china, chinese, Communist, google, monitoring, politics, protest, security, surveillance, top, Web