China has been much criticized for its moves against privacy and civil liberties. Last year, China joined the ranks of countries requiring cellphone users to prove their identity when signing up for service. Also last year, the Chinese government ordered cellular companies to suspend text services to cellphone users who are found to have sent messages with “illegal or unhealthy content. And there was a story about how crowdsourcing is being used to unmask people online. There are questions about whether individual privacy is being violated, and in some cases, whether the “human-flesh search engines” are causing enabling violence. There were also stories about the “Great Firewall of China.”
In 2009, the New York Times reported that the Chinese government secretly ordered news Web sites to require individuals to use their real names and identities when commenting on the sites. In 2008, Xinhua News Agency (which is controlled by the Chinese government) reported that China started photographing and identifying users of Beijing’s Internet cafes.
Now, the New York Times reports that “a powerful arm of China’s government said Wednesday that it had created a new central agency to regulate every corner of the nation’s vast Internet community, a move that appeared to complement a continuing crackdown on political dissidents and other social critics.”
But the vaguely worded announcement left unclear whether the new agency, the State Internet Information Office, would in fact supersede a welter of ministries and other government offices that already claim jurisdiction over parts of cyberspace.
China’s State Council Information Office said it was transferring its own staff of Internet regulators to the new agency, which would operate under its jurisdiction. Among many other duties, the agency will direct “online content management;” supervise online gaming, video and publications; promote major news Web sites; and oversee online government propaganda. The agency will also have authority to investigate and punish violators of online content rules, and it will oversee the huge telecommunications companies that provide access for Internet users and content providers alike. […]
The mushrooming growth of China’s Internet business has spawned a sort of land rush for regulatory turf by government agencies that see in it a chance to gain more authority or more money, or both. At least 14 government units, from the culture and information technology ministries to offices that oversee films and books, have some hand in what appears on China’s Internet. Others have interests in Internet-related ventures like the sale of censorship software that could prove to be lucrative sources of income.