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China Hits All-Time Low Coming in Last in the ‘Freedom on the Net’ Report

Google, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and  Instagram are among just a few sites that are regularly banned within China’s borders.  (Image:  John Blyberg via  Flicker/ CC BY 2.0)
Google, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram are among just a few sites that are regularly banned within China’s borders. (Image: John Blyberg via Flicker/ CC BY 2.0)

China, the world’s most populous country, is use to being out in front when it comes to technology; well, not in the race for “Freedom on the Net.” In the 2015 report from the American watchdog Freedom House, China has come in last behind places like Syria, Iran, and Cuba.

Under general secretary and state president Xi Jinping, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has continued to pursue what they call their “cyberspace sovereignty.” In the report, it states that China’s Internet Network Information Center was found to be issuing false digital security certificates for a number of websites, including Google, exposing the sites’ users to “man in the middle” attacks.

Quick facts from the report. (Image: Freedom House)

Quick facts from the report. (Image: Freedom House)

Almost half of the Chinese population is online, making it the world’s largest online population. The only problem is their Internet is very different from the one most people around the world are use too. There are so many censorship tools that the CCP employs that block hundreds of thousands of pages they have deemed to be politically or socially sensitive.

Google, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram are among just a few sites that are regularly banned within China’s borders. Major political and media websites are also seen as sensitive therefore are also banned. A recent crackdown on political debate has resulted in the “ongoing erosion of user rights, including through extralegal detentions, and the imposition of prison sentences for online speech.”

It was revealed by China Digital Times that Xi had declared:

‘The Internet has become the main battlefield for public opinion struggle.’

According to the report, this represented considerably stronger rhetoric than that used by his predecessor, Hu Jintao, who had merely referred to “guidance” and “channeling” of public opinion online.

There has also been a recent push for tech companies to allow official surveillance of their users’ online data and actions. While other countries have traced cyber-attacks back to Mainland China with all these human rights issues, China dropped three places to last on the report.

TestTube News: How Strict Are China’s Censorship Laws?

A government agency was issuing false digital security certificates for websites, which included Google. This left visitors to those sites vulnerable to attacks from hackers in order to deliver malware or steal personal data.

At the University of Toronto, a research group called Citizen Lab documented massive cyber-attacks on U.S. anti-censorship websites that had originated in the architecture of the Chinese government’s own censorship apparatus, known as the Great Firewall — a previously undocumented capability that the group dubbed the Great Cannon, according to the report.

Although there is pressure on overseas websites and companies,

‘the real targets of the oppression are the domestic users. Individuals have been imprisoned for legitimate online speech,’

which included renowned human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, who was criminally charged with inciting ethnic hatred and picking quarrels on social media.

Then there was the environmental documentary Under the Dome that was viewed by millions of people online before it was censored. Authorities use anti-pornography and anti-rumor campaigns as a cover for suppressing politically sensitive material and voices, and charges typically used to silence offline dissent — subversion, separatism, and terrorism, as well as defamation and “creating a disturbance” — are regularly invoked to imprison citizens for their online activity, according to the report.

The Daily Conversation — China’s “Great INTERNET Firewall” Explained:

A bolstered “real-name registration” system remains a threat to users’ privacy and anonymity, and surveillance has increased in ethnic minority areas chafing under CCP rule. Websites, hosting services, and dissidents’ email accounts are routinely attacked by hackers based in China, the report said.

There is a constitution, and under Article 35 of the Chinese constitution, it guarantees freedoms of speech, assembly, association, and publication; but such rights are subordinated to the CCP’s status as the ruling power. But in most cases, the constitution cannot be used in courts against the CCP. The judiciary is far from independent and closely follows any Party directives, particularly in freedom of expression cases.

At the end of the day, while China has some beautiful buildings and landscapes, their human rights beliefs are lacking. So if you go over there for holidays, don’t expect to gain too much Internet access because while you can buy special access to get over the “Great Firewall,” remember they can and have blocked access even with this.

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