China orders Internet providers to screen e-mail, use less foreign software

Monday, January 21st 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BEIJING (AP) _ China has issued its most intrusive Internet controls to date, ordering service providers to screen private e-mail for political content and holding them responsible for subversive postings on their Web sites.

The new rules, posted earlier this week on the Web site of the Ministry of Information Industry, represent Beijing's latest efforts to tighten its grip on the only major medium in China not already under state control.

The regulations also create new difficulties for a competitive industry trying to attract more overseas investment.

Foreign software makers must now guarantee in writing that their products do not contain hidden programs that would allow spying or hacking into Chinese computers. The rules also require computers to use only domestic software.

Many in the industry had hoped for a more liberal climate following China's entry into the World Trade Organization. But the rules pointed to Beijing's resolve to keep the Web from being used to spread opposition to Communist Party rule.

Under the new rules, general portal sites must install security programs to screen and copy all e-mail messages sent or received by users. Those containing ``sensitive materials'' must be turned over to authorities.

Providers are also responsible for erasing all prohibited content posted on their Web sites, including online chatrooms and bulletin boards.

The new rules include a long list of banned content prohibiting writings that reveal state secrets, hurt China's reputation or advocate the overthrow of communism, ethnic separatism or ``evil cults.''

The last category covers the Falun Gong spiritual movement, which has frequently resorted to the Internet to defy a harsh two-year crackdown.

Pornography and violence are also prohibited.

Authorities have struggled to deal with the Internet since it took off in China in the mid-1990s. They want to prevent it from becoming a forum for political discontent without harming its value to business and education.

China issued its first guidelines on Internet content in late 2000, requiring providers to monitor online chatrooms and bulletin boards and keep records of users' viewing times, addresses and telephone numbers.