China is set to tighten its grip over the internet by updating the existing legislation, popularly called ‘Great Firewall’, for the first time in two decades. The new norms are quite comprehensive and complicated when compared to those in other countries.
They will affect both published as well as the viewing of online material. A wide range of content or material would come under censorship.
This is likely to affect the freedom of the press within the nation. The new regulations are also aimed at curbing what China sees as foreign government interference in domestic policies or governance, and misinformation on social media.
The Chinese government often blocks websites and monitors access to the internet, and as per its requirement, major internet platforms of the nation have established elaborate self-censorship mechanisms.
There is an intensive effort on the behalf of the companies to follow the protocols, and some of them even hire teams and invest in powerful artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms to carry out policing and removal of illegal content from the internet.
The process of blocking websites and pages is carried out by methods including DNS (Domain Name System) spoofing, the blocking of access to IP addresses, analyzing and filtering of URLs, and the resetting of connections.
According to Nikkei Asia, on January 8, China’s internet watchdog, The Cyberspace Administration of China, came out with draft amendments to rules which regulate online services. The proposal is the first big revision of its kind since the directives were issued in 2000.
Under the new proposal, the number of articles has been doubled from 27 to 54 in order to accommodate the rise of smartphones, social media applications, and video-sharing websites.
Moreover, the Cyberspace Administration of China will launch a crackdown on illegal activities including spreading rumors regarding the pandemic by implementing heavy penalties.
Reports suggest China’s internet watchdog, along with the competent telecommunications authorities or the public security organs, will issue warnings and confiscate illegal gains of internet information service providers that resort to fabricating and spreading false information regarding sectors of disease, natural disasters, and production that disturb social order.
The maximum fine for disseminating misinformation or content that may disturb social order has been increased to 1 million yuan ($154,000). The penalty will especially target misinformation regarding the Covid-19 pandemic and the national security of China.
Wang Jing, an internet lawyer in Nanjing, East China’s Jiangsu Province, told the state-owned Global Times, “Although the current law on public security is issued by the public security authorities, the latest regulation, led by the CAC, is more of an economic punishment.”
Since the outbreak of the virus last year, rumors regarding the pandemic have led to the disruption of social stability and epidemic prevention.
If the draft law is implemented, the punishments will be the harshest since the issue of penalties for the administration of public security in August 2005.
Wang noted how the stringent control of the internet will be beneficial to the country as it would further increase the cost of internet crimes and reduce the possible impacts on social stability brought by the spread of disinformation.
The draft law, if implemented, would double the punishment for crimes committed on the internet, in addition to the existing law on public security administration, said Wang.
Under the new rules, there will be a provision for a ban on services that delete social media posts for a fee as well as improper trading of online accounts.
The new regulations are expected to take effect later this year, and the Chinese authorities will now be taking the opinions of experts on the proposed rules until early February.
China recorded a total of around 163 million cases of illegal and inappropriate material in 2020 alone, a 20 percent increase from the previous year.