Reporters Without Borders today condemned yesterday’s announcement by the ministry of culture that China’s Internet cafés will have to install surveillance software to monitor their customers’ activities, and an earlier announcement that chain stores are to be put in charge of running the Internet cafés.
"By putting Internet cafés under the control of a few, partly state-owned companies and by standardising the surveillance equipment installed by the chain stores, the Chinese authorities are making it easier to censor the Internet," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said.
He added: "Centralising the management of points of Internet access will make it easier for the authorities to control users. This is a worrying precedent, which could serve as a model for other repressive governments to follow."
Liu Qiang, a senior official with the culture ministry’s Internet department, told the Russian news agency Interfax that surveillance systems were already installed in the central province of Sinchuan and the eastern province of de Guangxi. These systems, which are to be installed in all of China’s Internet cafés by the middle of next year, make it possible to collect personal data on Internet users, to store a record of all the webpages they visit, and to alert the authorities when they view unlawful content.
China now has about 110,000 Internet cafés. According to Liu, "fewer than 100 companies will be approved for the development of Internet cafés throughout the country." He said Internet cafés that are not part of the big chains would not, however, be banned. The culture ministry would just "encourage mergers and acquisitions," he said. Ten companies, of which three are linked to the culture ministry, have already received government approval to start Internet café chains.