By Anna Nguyen, Silha Research Assistant
The governments of China and Vietnam continue to censor access to the Internet as more people can connect to it in their homes, Internet cafes or at work. Both governments have blocked sites and arrested those who used the Internet to disseminate information deemed "inappropriate." In Vietnam, the government is sending its citizens mixed signals about Internet usage. While the government improves the infrastructure, it also increases the regulations on content. There are about one million users in Vietnam's population of 69 million. The Chinese government continues to expand its methods of surveillance, discouraging the use of the Internet as a forum for free speech and blocking access to gambling, pornography and "extremist" websites. The Associated Press estimates there are about 45 million regular Internet users in China.
The Vietnamese government has blocked U.S.-based Web sites, such as Thong Luan that features pro-democracy writings, according the Associated Press. In March 2002, the government arrested Pham Hong Son for translating and posting an article on the Internet about democracy from the U.S. State Department Web site. An online political forum for young people, TTVNOnline.com, was shut down after posting negative opinions about the government in August.
The Vietnamese government also opposes access to pornographic websites. In October this year, the Vietnamese government released new laws that required businesses and organizations to obtain permission before setting up Web sites, according to the Associated Press. Owners of Internet cafés now carry the responsibility for controlling their users' Web surfing.
Greg Walton, a San Francisco researcher who provides technical support for an organization advocating independence for Tibet, told the Associated Press that earlier this year the Chinese government took only 24 hours to discover how people were circumventing blocked sites in chat rooms or discussion groups. The Chinese government continues to try to identify sites run by foreign media, religious and human rights groups. Webmasters are told to cut off subversive talk in Internet chat rooms, and a special police force filters e-mails and searches the Web for forbidden content.
Agence France Presse reported on September 1 this year that the highly popular Chinese language version of the search engine Google had been blocked. New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) told the publication it was concerned about the action, arguing it would adversely affect access to information for both journalists and citizens in the country.
Shortly after the block was imposed, New Scientist discovered that users could access Google through a mirror site, called elgooG. Another search engine, AltaVista, had also been blocked, reported New Scientist. The Washington Post reported that the block on Google was lifted on September 12 without any explanation, but some content linked to the site remained blocked, such as Tibetan independence sites.
In late October, the Associated Press in Beijing reported that a Chinese province required Internet café users to buy access cards identifying them to police. The system requires customers to register their names, ages and addresses, which are then loaded into a police database, a police spokesman told the Associated Press. Currently, more than 200,000 users have obtained cards.
A spokesman with the police computer crime division in the provincial capital of Nanchang told the Associated Press that the government installed the system in all 3,200 Internet cafes in the central province of Jiangxi in September. "This system gives us more power to prevent crimes and identify criminals on the Internet," said the spokesman. The Associated Press did not reveal his name.
The censorship in these countries has attracted the attention of concerned groups in the United States. The technologically savvy have developed ways to access blocked sites for the country's citizens, the Associated Press reported in September. Third party Internet gateways known as proxies have allowed Chinese and Vietnamese citizens to bypass government filters. As governments begin to block these proxies, technologists find new ways of evading censors.
The commercial proxy Anonymizer frequently changes domain names or numeric Internet addresses. Lance Cottrell, president of Anonymizer based in San Diego, said its site is one of the first ones blocked. The site, www.anonymizer.com, features products that allows an individual to surf the Internet anonymously and block cookies.
The company currently has launched an initiative with the Voice of America (VOA) to provide anti-censorship tools for people in China. Cottrell started the business in 1995 to provide people the right to use the Internet as democratizing tool. "I think it's appropriate to make it possible for people to exercise their rights even against the wishes of their government," he said in a telephone interview. Cottrell hopes to expand the anti-censorship tools program in the future.