The Great Firewall of China (Great Firewall, the abbreviation is GFW. Chinese: 防火长城; Chinese: 防火長城; pinyin: fáng huŏ cháng chéng, commonly known as 墙 (wall)) is a blanket term with ironic connotations thought to have been coined in an article in Wired magazine in 1997 and used by international, including Chinese, media to refer to legislation and projects initiated by the Chinese government (which is controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, or CCP) that attempt to regulate the internet in Mainland China. It is the main instrument to achieve Internet censorship in China. These CCP regulations include criminalizing certain online speech and activities, blocking from view selected websites, and filtering key words out of searches initiated from computers located in Mainland China.
Origins of Chinese Internet Law
While the United States and several other western countries passed laws criminalizing computer crimes beginning in the 1970s, China had no such legislation until 1997. That year, China's sole legislative body, the National People's Congress (NPC) passed CL97, a law that criminalizes "cyber crimes" (Chinese: 计算机犯罪; pinyin: jisuanji fanzui), which it divided into two broad categories: crimes that target computer networks and crimes carried out over computer networks. Behavior illegal under the latter category includes among many things the dissemination of pornographic material and the usurping of "state secrets." Some Chinese judges were critical of CL97, calling it ineffective and unenforcable. However, the NPC claimed it intentionally left the law "flexible" so that it could be open to future interpretation and development. Given the gaps in CL97, the central government of China relies heavily on its administrative body, the State Council, to determine what falls under the definitions, and their determinations are not required to go through the NPC legislative process. As a result, the CCP has ended up relying heavily on state regulation to carry out CL97.
The latter definition of online activities punishable under CL97, or "crimes carried out over computer networks" is used as justification for the Great Firewall and can be cited when the government blocks any ISP, gateway connections, or any access to anything on the internet. The definition also includes using the internet to distribute information considered "harmful to national security," and using the internet to distribute information considered "harmful to public order, social stability, and Chinese morality." The central government relies heavily on its State Council regulators to determine what specific online behavior and speech fall under these definitions.
Use of the term "Great Firewall" as an analogy to the Great Wall of China speaks more to the Great Firewall's deficiencies than to its effectiveness as a stalwart barrier to the dissemination of certain types of information in China. The Great Wall of China (Chinese: 万里长城; pinyin: wanli changcheng, or "wall of 10,000 li, li meaning miles) was built over hundreds of years to try to keep armies from Mongolia from invading China. However, the wall was built in unconnected strips, and despite the efforts of emperor Qin Shihuang (246-221BC) and others over hundreds of years to connect and fortify what is now known as the Great Wall, Mongol Genghis Khan and his army overcame the Great Wall and invaded China in 1208. China was then ruled by Mongol leaders in the Yuan Dynasty beginning in 1271 until the beginning of the Ming Dynasty in 1368. The implication of the Great Firewall analogy is that the Great Firewall, like the Great Wall of China, will eventually fail as a protective fortress.
Campaigns and Crackdowns
As part of the Great Firewall, beginning in 1993 China started the Golden Shield Project (Chinese: 金盾工程; pinyin: jindun gongcheng), a massive surveillance and censoring system, the hardware for which was provided by mostly U.S. companies, including Cisco Systems. The project was completed in 2006 and is now carried out in buildings with machines manned by civilians and supervised by China's national police force, the Public Security Bureau (PSB). The main operating activities of the gatekeepers at the Golden Shield Project include monitoring domestic websites and email and searching for politically sensitive language and calls to protest. When damaging content is found, local PSB officials can be dispatched to investigate or make arrests. However, by late 2007 the Golden Shield Project proved to operate sporadically at best, as users had long adapted to internet blocking by using proxy servers, among other strategies, to make communications and circumnavigate to blocked content.
In February of 2008, the Chinese government announced "Operation Tomorrow," a effort to crack down on youth usage of internet cafes to play online games and view content declared illegal. Internet cafes, an extremely popular way of getting online in developing countries where fewer people can afford a personal computer, are regulated by the Chinese government and by local Chinese government officials. Minors (in China, those under the age of 18) are not allowed into Internet cafes, although this law is widely ignored and when enforced, has spurred the creation of underground "Black Web Bars" that will be visited by those underage. As of 2008 internet cafes were required to register every customer in a log when they used the internet there. These records are fully confiscatable by local government officials and the PSB. To illustrate local regulation of internet cafes, in one instance, a government official in a town called Gedong lawfully banned internet cafes from operating in the town because he believed them to be harmful to minors, who frequented them to play online games (including those considered violent) and surf the internet. However, internet cafes in this town simply went underground and most minors were not deterred from visiting them.
Some research evidence has indicated that suspicion of the Great Firewall in China and the sense that one is being surveyed online leads to chilled speech and self-censorship, which has been more effective at blocking internet content than the Great Firewall has been.
However, China has had some success in filtering key words out of internet searches and blocking access to selected sites from the everyday user in China who would not try to get around it. Furthermore, surveillance of online activities is an ongoing process and shows no signs of abating any time soon. Web sites that the government has blocked number in the hundreds and range from the obvious (that of Falun Gong, a quasi-religious group that China banned in 1999) to the unlikely (seemingly innocuous English language web sites for The New York Times and Washington Post, which were blocked in Mainland China until 2002). Purportedly, words and phrases like "democracy" and "Tiananmen Square massacre" are filtered from searches through agreements with search providers like Google.
Chinese corporate statues mandate that domestic and foreign internet companies doing business in Mainland China cooperate with its Great Firewall efforts. The Chinese businesses of American companies Yahoo, Google, and Microsoft comply with this condition of operating there. While the leadership of these companies regularly express their distaste for China's Great Firewall policies, in the same vein they consider it a necessary part of doing business in China and better than the alternative, which would be to not have any China business at all. Jerry Yang, a founder of Yahoo, additionally has implied that the presence of foreign internet companies in China will eventually help bring about less internet restriction in China
- Keith, Ronald; Lin, Zhiqiu (2006). New Crime In China. Routledge Taylor & Francis Group. pp. 217–225. ISBN 0415314828.
- [August, Oliver. The Great Firewall: China's Misguided-and Futile-Attempt to Control What Happens Online in Wired Magazine, December 23, 2007]
- Shemel, Sidney; Krasilovsky, M. William (2007). This Business of Music. Billboard Books. p. 441. ISBN 0823077233.