Elizabeth Hicks

07 Aug. 2005


Opennet Initiative: A case study in filtering China’s Internet

A group called Opennet Initiative (ONI), located at www.opennetinitiative.net, has been created by “a partnership between three leading academic institutions: the Citizen Lab at the Munk Centre for International Studies, University of Toronto, Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School, and the Advanced Network Research Group at the Cambridge Security Programme, University of Cambridge.” Their main goal is to “excavate, expose and analyze filtering and surveillance practices in a credible and non-partisan fashion.” ONI wants to learn more about the drawbacks and unintentional consequences of filtering and surveillance programs. ONI hopes that this information will help better the public policy and advocacy work.

Through their research, ONI has found many ways in which China regulates Internet access for its citizens. Some of the ways China regulates the Internet include, General media regulation, Internet access regulation, and Internet content regulation.China’s Internet regulatory policy authorizes four state organizations — now subsumed into the Ministry of Information Industry (MII) — to operate networks connected to the global Internet.”

General media regulation occurs through a number or regulatory agencies. One such agency is The General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP). GAPP licenses and monitors media publications. Such publications include newspapers, periodicals, books and websites. GAPP gets help from the General Administration for Customs, “which confiscates publications deemed harmful to the government.”

            Internet access regulation is widespread in China. China has access controls for Internet service providers (ISPs), Internet content providers (ICPs), Internet subscribers and cybercafé users. China has always had access control of the Internet. It is a major way in which the government filters the Internet. In 1994, one year before the Internet was commercially available to the public, the State Council gave the Minister of Public Security overall responsibility for supervision of the Internet.                       

            Since 1994, regulation of the Internet has become more intense. In September 2000, the “Interim Measures on the Administration of Record and Registration of Profit-making Websites” made registration procedures official. The government implemented yearly inspection of on-line business, which required the businesses “to register and submit information on their personnel for information checks.” They also required these businesses to post their registration number prominently on their websites. In addition, the State Council issued Order No. 292, which “attempted to differentiate Web sites that provide information involving the journalism, publication, education, medical care, medicines, and medical equipment and so on…from other Internet businesses”         

ISPs are also controlled by the Chinese government. ISPs have to get an operating license from MII. This license has to have a record of a customer’s account number, phone number, and IP address. They must also record the content of any Internet content providers “that publish, operate bulletin boards, or engage in journalism.” The ISPs in China are legally responsible for anything that they display. “ISPs that fail to follow the law face revocation of their business license and arrest of company staff.”

In 1996, the Chinese government required all ISP subscribers to register with their local police within 30 days of sign-up. In 2000, China began to require ISPs “to track their users’ account numbers, when users are online, and the sites customers visit.” ISPs must also keep a detailed log of every subscriber’s Internet usage for 60 days. The ISP can also be “held responsible if their customers use the ISP’s systems to violate laws. Most ISPs have their own monitoring and censoring programs to further limit their subscribers from accessing illegal information. This is to ensure that the ISPs do not get into trouble with the government because one of their subscribers did or saw something that they are not allowed to do or see.

Internet content providers have to control access to and use of on-line bulletin board services. For-profit ICPs must also apply for a special business license under state council order No. 292. Not-for-profit ICPs only have to file official records. Also, if an ICP wants to operate a bulletin board system (BBS), they would need to apply for a special license. An ICP that wants to offer BBSs has to create a set of comprehensive rules, consistent with the government’s laws that govern a subscriber’s use of the service. The rules must be prominently placed on the ICPs website. Furthermore, ICPs must “set up a secure registration and login system to allow the service to identify and track subscribers.” The ICP have to keep records of subscribers’ usage for 60 days and be able to hand over that information when government agencies request it. Lastly, ICPs have to monitor all content on the services and immediately remove and report any inappropriate or illegal postings.

In 2001, China’s State Council performed a 3-month investigation into public Internet providers. Their investigation eventually closed over 8,000 public Internet Cafés. Around 5,000 cafés in Liaoning alone, the police had installed software to filter out any pornography or other “harmful” information. The regulation and surveillance of cybercafés greatly increased after a 2002 fire in Beijing. Between October and December 2004, the state shut down 150,000 unlicensed cybercafés. China shut down more than 12,000 cybercafés, focusing mostly on those located near elementary and middle schools. China has banned children under age 16 from the cybercafés, because “customers often play violent video games.”

Everyday China is increasing its hold on the Internet and the information found there. China does not want its people to read or promote anti-Chinese thoughts. “Chinese citizens seeking access to Web sites containing content related to Taiwanese and Tibetan independence, Falun Gong, the Dalai Lama, the Tiananmen Square incident, opposition political parties, or a variety of anti-Communist movements will frequently find themselves blocked.” The Chinese government believes that it needs to keep “harmful” material blocked and thus keep its people from knowing the truth.


“Internet Filtering in China in 2004 – 2005: A Country Study.” Case Studies. (2005). 07

Aug. 2005. <http://www.opennetinitiative.net/studies/china/#toc2b>



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