Censored: the map website accused of leaking site of PLA HK barracks

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 May, 2010, 12:00am

Authorities have censored a Shenzhen-based online forum accused of leaking the locations of military facilities like airports, naval bases and the PLA's Hong Kong barracks, as well as providing access to Google Earth.

William Long, the forum administrator at Moon-bbs.com, was accused of linking its contents to a 'foreign internet map search engine' in a report by China Central Television on Monday night. The report also said the forum had revealed the location of a military airport before it was officially reported in October.

Long, a prominent mainland blogger, told the South China Morning Post yesterday the foreign search engine was Google Earth. He said he was asked to pay a fine of 5,000 yuan (HK$5,710) for 'illegally showing maps' produced by Shenzhen's land supervision authorities, which he thought was unfair.

Beijing's efforts to tighten control of online information have spread to online map services recently. The People's Daily website, People. com.cn, revealed this week that more than 200 websites had been shut down since January last year in a campaign to regulate sites providing geographic information.

It said a joint working group established by seven state departments - the State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping, Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, Ministry of State Security, State Administration for Industry and Commerce, General Administration of Press and Publications, State Secrets Bureau and the Surveying and Mapping Bureau of the People's Liberation Army's General Staff Department - had investigated more than 40,000 online map websites and censored the content of about 1,000 websites, some 30 of which were found to involve military information and the rest to contain inappropriate information.

Long denied CCTV's accusation that his forum 'was an online community frequented by military fans'.

'I am not a military fan myself,' he said in an article posted on his personal blog a few hours after seeing the CCTV programme. 'I have not read any military magazines, have not been to any military bases and have very limited military knowledge.'

It is not the first time Beijing-controlled media have attacked services provided by Google. The United States-based search giant was accused by the same TV programme last year of providing a large number of links to pornographic websites.

Google's run-ins with the mainland authorities led it to close its simplified-Chinese internet search service on the mainland in March.

Long said he understood why the mainland authorities did not like services such as Google Earth.

'Everyone can freely mark information about buildings, even the houses of some top leaders and other so-called secrets, and share them at Google Earth; that's why they want to control such behaviour,' he said.

But Long and other mainland internet analysts and bloggers interviewed yesterday said the main motive behind the government crackdown was commercial.

Michael Anti, a Beijing-based internet analyst, said he believed the various crackdowns on mainland websites in the past few years, no matter whether they targeted pornography, geographical information or search engines like Google, were not related to tighter political censorship but to officials' desire to cash in on the internet.

He said officials were using their censorship powers to make money.

'All departments are working hard to find their own opportunities for rent-seeking from censoring online information, and using political excuses,' he said. 'It is their business; licences [issued to the websites] mean money.'

Jason Ng, another Beijing-based blogger, who launched the mainland's first independent survey of attempts to surmount the 'Great Firewall of China', said he regarded the crackdown on online map websites as another example of the 'development of state-owned enterprises and the receding of privately owned enterprises'.

'They've found opportunities to make money from the internet's location-based services, and the crackdown on online map servers will become more strict,' he said.

According to the latest standard, issued by the State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping last week, qualified online map service providers must have their servers on the mainland and must not have leaked information in any form in the past three years.

Long agreed, saying: 'After cleaning up the privately owned servers, the state-owned ones can enter the huge online map market, which will be very profitable in the future.'