China's new IT authority could raise censorship

The new department will unify enforcement of the Web into one regulatory body

China announced on Wednesday it had established a new department to oversee information on the Internet, in a move that could lead to more effective Web censorship.

The announcement came from China's State Council General Office. The department will carry out policies relating to how information is disseminated over the Internet. This includes supervising the management of Web information, along with Internet news services.

The department will also manage the development of gaming, video and publication industries on the Internet. It will also investigate and prosecute websites for violating laws.

The new department appears to be a move by the Chinese government to unify its enforcement of the Web into one regulatory body. Previously, several different government departments have had certain levels of jurisdiction over the Internet.

But in some instances, this has caused conflicts. In 2009, China's Ministry of Culture and the General Administration of Press and Publication were caught in a turf war over who had the authority to approve a "World of Warcraft" expansion pack.

In the government's eyes, these sorts of past disputes have highlighted the need for a strong unifying arm to administer the Internet, said Mark Natkin, managing director of Beijing-based research firm Marbridge Consulting.

"The new body should allow policy makers and top authorities to better coordinate the various regulatory bodies that oversee the Internet," he said. "This will allow for tighter regulations of the Internet."

China is one of the fastest growing Internet markets, with 457 million Web users, according to the China Internet Network Information Center. But in regulating the Internet, the country's government also strictly polices websites for politically sensitive content.

Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have all been blocked. At the same time, Chinese Internet censors will prevent users from posting or searching for information that's openly against the government.

In the last months, China's Web censorship has also increased to new levels, following an anonymous protest call made over the Internet, urging the Chinese people to start a "Jasmine revolution." Users have been barred from searching for the term "jasmine" on microblogs, while experts have said China is cracking down on human rights activists by blocking Gmail access in the country.

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Michael Kan

IDG News Service
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