With about 4.49 billion web pages currently online, it’s fair to say that the Internet is a pretty big place, and China is taking steps to police it. Literally.
The Verge reports that the Chinese government plans to embed police officers at some Internet companies in the hopes of enforcing its strict web censorship policies. Details of the plan’s scope and implementation remain unclear.
“We will set up cyber security police stations inside important website and internet firms so that we can catch criminal behaviour online at the earliest possible point,” said China’s deputy minister of public security Chen Zhimin. These “network security offices” are being installed “in order to be able to find out about illegal internet activity more quickly.”
Prior to announcing the plan, the government also published a draft of a cyber-security law that elevates the government’s powers to obtain records on, and block dissemination of, private information deemed illegal. If made into law, it would require them to store users’ data in China, curtail online anonymity, and share data with the government. The law has sparked harsh criticism from civil liberties groups, who say it’ll only further restrict free speech in an already stifled country.
“While the Chinese government is known for its obsession with Internet control, the draft law sends a clear and chilling message of intent to further control online expression,” Human Rights Watch’s China director Sophie Richardson said. “The law will effectively put China’s internet companies, and hundreds of millions of Internet users, under greater state control.”
China already works hard to censor the Internet, swiftly removing content it deems objectionable, such as rumors and anti-government messages. The government’s Internet policies have also only gotten more and more intense since President Xi Jinping took office in 2013.
According to Qiao Mu, a professor at the Beijing Foreign Studies University, putting police officers right inside internet offices might signal the latest escalation in its campaign
“The goal seems to be to a create an intimidating atmosphere inside the companies themselves.,” said Mu.