Internet patrol system extended

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 May, 2006, 12:00am

'Virtual police' programme will cover 8 more cities

The Ministry of Public Security will spread its internet patrol programme to eight more cities next month after a trial launch in Shenzhen early this year.

The programme comes after numerous attempts this year to tighten control over online content, including a pledge of self-censorship by 43 Beijing websites, which resulted in the closure of more than 200 chat rooms and deletion of 1.5 million online comments in April.

At a meeting on internet administration attended by all levels of police, the ministry announced that the 'virtual police' system would be launched next month.

The meeting, which ended in Beijing on Saturday, was told the cities covered by the system would be Chongqing, Hangzhou, Ningbo, Qingdao, Xiamen, Guangzhou, Wuhan and Chengdu , Xinhua reported.

On Shenzhen websites, 'Jingjing' and 'Chacha' - two cartoon images representing police officers on patrol - are pasted beside chat room entrances. Police say the images work both as a warning not to violate the law and as a way for internet users to report crime.

There are also 'information security guards' based within chat rooms to ensure that 'false', radical and uncivilised statements are deleted. Following the introduction of the system, 'harmful' online information fell 60 per cent over the first four months of the year, according to the Shenzhen Public Security Bureau.

Vice-Minister Zhang Xinfeng said police in the eight cities would patrol the internet around the clock. Forum and chat room operators would be asked to come up with measures to prevent misconduct, and would be held responsible for violations.

Wang Yukai , a public administration professor at the National School of Administration, said efforts to address mounting online crime were necessary, but ought to be approached cautiously to avoid violating privacy or hampering freedom of speech.

Mainland police closed more than 1,400 pornographic websites and arrested 420 people in a crackdown in the second half of 2004. More than 700 online gambling suspects were arrested in another crackdown last year.

'Rampant online crimes are a reflection of China's current social disorder. Since a majority of China's 110 million netizens are young people, weak internet monitoring by the government would expose them to harmful information,' said Professor Wang.

But regulatory moves must not cross the line to infringe on people's rights, he warned.

'There may be radical speech and discussion in chat rooms. That's a way people express their views. Banning or deleting such remarks is not supported by current laws,' he said.