China's internet censor has announced a further step in the censorship of online news reporting.
China already requires any organization publishing news or current affairs-related content to hold a license from the country's media censor. Now in the
latest step, China will ban private individuals, bloggers and citizen journalists from posting news-related information online without a license.
The move was announced by Zhuang Rongwen, deputy director of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP)'s
central propaganda department, during a Jan. 29 online conference. Zhuang told the conference:
We must control the source of online texts, and resolutely close any loopholes. The standardized management of citizen journalism should be a
priority, with increased punishments for offenders and actual teeth for regulators.
China's Cyberspace Administration also included the announcement in an official statement on its website.
The company which approves Internet domains in Hong Kong said it will now reject any sites that could incite illegal acts, a further reduction in Hong Kong freedom after Beijing's imposition of a national security law on the Chinese-ruled city last year.
Holders of .hk domains were advised of the policy change late on Thursday, after Internet service provider Hong Kong Broadband Network (HKBN) said it had blocked access to HKChronicles, a website offering information about anti-government protests.
The Hong Kong Domain Name Registration Company (HKDNR) alerted holders of .hk domains to the new acceptable use policy by its parent, Hong Kong Internet Registration Corporation Limited (HKIRC), which goes into effect on Jan. 28. It said it could
reject applications for new .hk sites that it believes could incite criminal acts, abuse privacy or provide false or misleading information.
China's internet censor, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), has announced plans to start a 'rectification' of Chinese mobile internet browsers to address social concerns over the chaos of information being published online.
CAC, firms operating mobile browsers have until 9 November to conduct a self examination and rectify problems. These problems include spreading of rumors, the use of sensationalist headlines and publishing content that infringes the core values of
CAC threatened that after the 'rectification', mobile browsers that still have outstanding problems will be dealt with strictly according to laws and regulations until related businesses are banned.
Huawei said it plans to start a
'self-examination and clean-up' in line with the regulator's requests.
According to Greatfire.org, a site that monitors internet censorship in China, internet users in China cannot access Scratch's website anymore.
Scratch programming language was developed by the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab. There
are around 60 million kids who use Scratch's interactive programming features to learn how to make games, animated stories, and more. A total of 5.65% or 3 million Scratch users reside in China.
The censorship seems re lated to a Chinese news
report about the projects on Scratch on August 21. It claimed that the platform harbored a great deal of humiliating, fake, and libelous content about China, that included placing Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan in a dropdown list of independent countries.
The report says that any service distributing information in China has to comply with the local regulations. It also suggested that Scratch's website and user forum had been banned in the country.
It is unclear whether the ban is temporary or
a permanent one. In any case, if the ban is proven permanent then China will probably whip up a home-baked alternative.
The Chinese government has deployed an update to its national firewall, to block encrypted HTTPS connections that are being set up using the latest internet standards for encryption.
The ban has been in place since the end of July, according to a
joint report published this week by three organizations tracking Chinese censorship -- iYouPort , the University of Maryland , and the Great Firewall Report.
In particular China is now blocking HTTPS+TLS1.3+ESNI.
TLS 1.3 is the latest
encryption standard that can be used to implement https. Server Name Indication is used to specify which website is required when several websites are hosted using the same I address. By default it is unencrypted letting ISPs and snoopers know which
website is being accessed even when using https. ESNI (Encrypted Server Name Indication) closes this loophole.
Other HTTPS traffic is still allowed through the Great Firewall, if it uses older versions of the same protocols -- such as TLS 1.1 or 1.2,
or SNI (Server Name Indication). This rather suggests that these old encryption standards are now compromised.
Per the findings of the joint report, the Chinese government is currently dropping all HTTPS traffic where TLS 1.3 and ESNI are used, and
temporarily banning the IP addresses involved in the connection, for small intervals of time that can vary between two and three minutes.
Note also that this news about Chinese censorship probably informs us about snooping capabilities in the UK.
Presumably GCHQ and UK ISPs would be similarly blinded by HTTPS+TLS1.3+ESNI, whilst still being able to block and snoop on older standards.
Video communications platform Zoom has said it is working on technology that will allow the Chinese government to shut out individual users from meetings if they are talking about something that the Communist party does not like.
The news comes after
the US firm was criticised for shutting down a number of meetings organised by dissidents last week to commemorate the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Zoom said in a statement that its mistake was shutting down the meetings entirely, rather
than being able to identify which users in attendance were based in mainland China.
It added that it is developing technology over the next several days that will enable us to remove or block at the participant level based on geography -- meaning
Zoom will soon be able to remove users at the request of local authorities. The Zoom statement said:
We were notified by the Chinese government about four large, public June 4th commemoration meetings on Zoom that were
being publicised on social media... The Chinese government informed us that this activity is illegal in China and demanded that Zoom terminate the meetings and host accounts.
Chinese authorities have approved a new set of comprehensive regulations that expand the scope of online censorship, emphasize the prohibition of 'negative' content and make platforms more liable for content violations.
China previously had very
detailed censorship laws laying out exactly what was banned and what part of the internet the rule applied to. The new Provisions on the Governance of the Online Information Content Ecosystem rationalises them into more general rules that apply to
the entire internet.
The new rules were approved in mid-December and will take effect in March. They apply to everyone and have noted that anyone who posts anything to the internet si to be considered a content producer.
Jeremy Daum, senior
fellow at the Yale Law School's Paul Tsai China Center notes that the new laws for what counts as illegal or now 'negative content' are quite vague. The document lays out what constitutes illegal content in sweeping terms. Content that undermines ethnic
unity or undermines the nation's policy on religions is forbidden, as is anything that disseminates rumors that disrupt economic or social order or generally harms the nation's honor and interests, among other rules.
The new regulations then go on to
dictate that content producers must employ measures to prevent and resist the making, reproduction or publication of negative information. This includes the following:
the use of exaggerated titles, gossip,
improper comments on natural disasters, major accidents, or other disasters,
anything with sexual innuendo or that is readily associated with sex, gore or horror,
or things that would
push minors towards behaviors that are unsafe or violate social mores.
Platforms are the ones responsible for policing all these restrictions, the rules say, and should establish mechanisms for everything from reviewing content and comments to real-time inspections to the handling of online rumors. They are to have
designate a manager for such activities and improve related staff.