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China is installing “Internet police” at major Internet companies

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It’s no secret that China has little to no respect for free speech and privacy on the Internet, but the country’s most recent attempt to control what people are saying on the web takes things to an entirely different level. While taking care to mask its true intentions with misleading descriptions and assurances that this is what’s best for the people, China has announced that it will begin installing Internet police at major Chinese Internet companies and websites.

Whether you want to describe this as “cyberpunk” or “Orwellian,” it’s clear that the is simply one of the many ways the Chinese government is trying to limit free speech and control what’s said on the Internet. Naturally the country doesn’t want the move to be seen this way, which is why China’s Deputy Minister of Public Security, Chen Zhimin, is painting this as a way for the government “to find out about illegal internet activity more quickly” and is referring to the Internet police that the government is installing as harmless “network security offices.”

Reading about plan’s announcement on People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, is actually pretty amusing, and a little bit unsettling. One of the comments that pops up on the English version of the article says: “This is a great progress for china’s public security, the practice setting up online police station will provide better environment to netizens, this is also a good means to prevent and hit crime.” I’m not sure if the person posting the comment is a deluded citizen or some fake PR account for the Chinese government, but it speaks volumes either way.

While the Chinese government’s attempt to limit free speech on the Internet isn’t surprising, the unusually direct approach that it’s taking is. Whereas most of China’s censorship policies involve setting standards that Internet companies like Baidu and Tencent have to enforce, installing Internet police at companies and websites is much more hands-on than what we’re used to seeing. Then again, President Xi Jinping has been cracking down on “objectionable” content on the web ever since he assumed office in 2013, so maybe this was just the next logical step.

“The physical police units at Web companies are part of Beijing’s broader efforts to exert greater control over China’s Internet,” said the Wall Street Journal. “China tightened regulation of social networks earlier this year, banning accounts that could harm national security or promote illegal services such as drug peddling. The country has long required Web companies to delete accounts that it believes are spreading rumors, criticizing the Chinese Communist Party or disseminating pornography or other illegal content.”

This move also coincides with the ever-growing tensions between China and the United States regarding cybersecurity, with many American officials claiming that China was responsible for the massive cyberattack that resulted in millions of American citizens having their information stolen from databases belonging to the United States Office of Personnel Management. China, on the other hand, claims that it’s actually the victim of cyberattacks, not the perpetrator. Psh.

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