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[] DFN 21.11.01: China closes 17,000 Internet cafes,

China closes 17,000 Internet cafes
by Bobson Wong, Digital Freedom Network

(November 21, 2001) Chinese officials have reportedly closed more than 17,000 Internet cafes and ordered thousands more to install Internet surveillance software as part of a major offensive against unsupervised use of the Internet.

Shanghai's Wen Hui newspaper said today that Chinese police and commercial officials have examined over 94,000 Internet cafes in the last seven months. Last April, the government announced it was imposing a three-month ban on the opening of new cybercafes. All registered Internet cafes were required to renew their licenses, and those operating illegally would be shut down.

Only about half the country's Internet cafes have installed the required filtering software, according to Wen Hui. About 28,000 cafes have been ordered to install it. In February, the Ministry of Public Security announced that it released Internet filtering software called Internet Police 110 that allegedly can also monitor Web traffic and delete or block messages from sources deemed offensive.

Only half of China's Internet cafes have had their licenses renewed. 

About 15 percent, or four million, of the country's Internet population rely on cafes as their main source of access, according to the China Internet Network Information Center. Most of these users are in the country's smaller cities.

While China has always tried to discourage pro-democracy or dissident material from being circulated on the Internet ? at least 19 individuals in China are currently being detained for using the Net for religious or political purposes (see the complete list at < es-closed.htm netattack.htm> ? it is far more concerned about the impact that an unregulated Internet will have on the nation's young people. China's Internet population is much younger than the rest of the population. Over half of the country's Internet users are under age 25. Many parents have complained that their children were becoming addicted to pornographic Web sites or computer games.

Growing loss of online privacy 

The intense focus on cybercafes will be a big loss for Chinese users who want to maintain their privacy online. Before the government's April announcement, Internet cafes were not closely regulated. For example, many cafes did not log who was using their computers.

And in an unrelated move, the U.S.-based company <>SafeWeb quietly closed its free Web proxy service last week. A SafeWeb spokesperson said that the service, in which users could go to SafeWeb's site and surf the Web anonymously, was shut down because it cost too much to maintain. According to the company, many of the proxy service's users were based in China.

There is some hope for SafeWeb users, though. The company recently signed a contract with the International Broadcasting Bureau, parent agency of the Voice of America (VOA), for a pilot program in which the bureau would provide money for new computers to run SafeWeb software specifically tailored for people in China.

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