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Examining Chinese Internet Censorship

In testimony to the U.S. government, the University of Toronto’s Ronald Deibert looks ahead to censorship during the Beijing Olympics and analyzes the current state of censorship in China.
June 18, 2008

At the Beijing Olympics, foreign journalists may encounter systems designed to give the false appearance that Chinese Internet controls are minimal, according to Ronald Deibert, an associate professor of political science and director of the Citizen Lab at the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto. Today, Deibert, whose research group makes the censorship-circumvention tool Psiphon, will address the Beijing Olympics and other issues related to Chinese censorship in testimony to the U.S. China Economic and Security Review Commission in Washington, DC, as part of a hearing on access to information and media control in China.

From his testimony:

“There is considerable speculation as to how the Chinese government will deal with Internet controls during the upcoming Olympic games in Beijing. At least 30,000 foreign journalists are accredited to the Olympic games, and Beijing is contractually obliged to the International Olympic Committee to provide free Internet access for them. How and whether that will be accomplished is so far unknown, but there are several possible scenarios short of the unlikely rolling back of all filters. For example, China may reduce or eliminate controls over access to popular English language websites, news services, and blogging platforms, while keeping in place or even enhancing filters on the local language equivalents. This policy would give outsiders the impression that restrictions are minimal while targeting those sources of information that matter most for domestic policy. Already there is evidence that such a policy has begun, with long-standing restrictions on the English language version of the BBC news now lifted while the Chinese version of BBC remains inaccessible to users in China. China may also set aside a block of IP addresses for journalists that the routers will ignore; it is unclear, however, how that system would work for journalists accessing the Internet through multiple locations while traveling, such as in Internet cafes outside of official Olympic sites. Whatever method is ultimately employed, it seems highly probable that after the Olympics the controls will return to the status quo ante. Journalists covering the Olympic games would do well to come prepared with a reliable circumvention method and a list of banned Chinese language websites to check for accessibility.”

Deibert’s full testimony, which also addresses ethical compromises made by U.S. companies operating in China and the basic methods by which the Chinese government controls the Internet, is available for download here.

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