China Vows Tougher Crackdown On Web Offenders In 2010

In 2009, Chinese authorities arrested over 5,000 of its citizens for violations of Internet pornography laws “” a number that could be much higher in 2010 as the government promises to come down even harder on Web offenders as part of its beefed-up “state security” plan.

The Chinese government is already infamous for its heavy-handed monitoring and restriction of Internet activity “” a phenomenon that critical observers have dubbed the “Great Firewall of China.”

According to official figures, China’s ministry of public security arrested nearly 5,400 people and shut down some 9,000 pornography-related websites last year, though it did not disclose how many of those arrests resulted in prosecutions.

And this may just be a taste of what the country’s Communist party leaders have in store for 2010.

In December 2009, authorities announced that they would be offering rewards of up to 10,000 yuan (1,464 U.S. dollars) to anyone who reported illegal pornographic websites to the authorities.

Insiders say that such moves are just one part of the government’s multi-pronged strategy of fulfilling their resolution to “strengthen punishment for Internet operators that violate the laws and regulations [and] severely punish operations that have serious problems with harmful information.”

According to the ministry, “Purifying the Internet environment and cracking down on Internet crimes is related to long-term state security.”

As use and availability of Internet access has exploded in recent years with the rise of China’s growing middle class, the government has found itself engaged in a sort of innovation arms-race with an increasingly computer-savvy population intent on avoiding government censorship. 

As the authorities search tirelessly for new ways to regulate and monitor the content of Web material available to its denizens, an army of home-grown computer techies evolve ever new means to evade those controls.

And with an online population of nearly 340 million people “” the world’s largest “” Chinese authorities appear to be fighting an uphill battle.

Like all authoritarian regimes, Chinese autocrats are concerned over the dissemination of information that could potentially undermine their regime “” which they propagandistically label as harmful to “society.”

Though the government has already banned social sites like Facebook and Twitter, millions of Chinese Web surfers have been able to circumvent these restrictions in some measure by accessing the sites through proxy servers.

Chinese authorities also drew the intense ire of human rights groups around the world last July when they shut down Internet access completely in the Xinjiang region in the west after outbursts of civil and ethnic unrest in the area led to violent protests.

Only this week did they begin to allow limited access to a handful of state-run websites.