China has always considered itself a
"big brother" to all other nations in the region. In one respect, it is
fulfilling that rule. When it comes to censoring the Internet, China is a true
leader. With 30,000 "special police" assigned to monitoring Internet use in
China, nearly a billion dollars has been spent to build a system of hardware
and software to filter all Internet activity
going into, or out of, China. Officially called the Golden Shield
Project, it is operated by the Ministry of Public Security. That's the national
police. Informally, it's called the "Great Firewall of China." When the
Chinese began building it in 1998, they were laughed at by most Internet
experts. The laughing has stopped. While the Great Firewall cannot stop someone
expert at how the Internet works, it does greatly restrict the other 99 percent
of Internet users.
The Great Firewall has proved to be an inspiration
for police states everywhere. North Korea, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Syria,
Iran, Cuba, and Myanmar are big fans,
but so are many other nations we don't normally think of as dictatorships.
Russia, Thailand and Saudi Arabia, for example, have followed Chinas example
and adopted Internet censorship policies.
Ironically, much of the filtering software China
uses was originally developed for use by large corporations, who want to make
sure their employees do not send politically incorrect things, and get the
company in PR or legal trouble. Iran, however, is going one step further, and
is seeking software that will detect "immoral" images and messages sent via
cell phones. China would also like to filter cell phone text messages (SMS),
but so far has been unable to find such a product on the commercial market.