The media is boiling with the discussions about the latest censorship incidents in China. From more and more social media accounts getting terminated to people being detained for expressing discontent online.
By Eugene Michaels
To put it shortly, China undoubtedly has the most advanced and strict internet regulations in the world, leaving such countries as Iran and Syria behind.
However, in this article, let’s step back and understand the institutions behind the internet censorship, more precisely the Golden Shield Project and the widely-known Great Firewall of China.
To begin with, China is said to have the most substantial number of detained netizens. These people have been arrested for such actions as creating or signing online petitions, calling for political changes, criticising the government officials, or communicating with foreign groups that might worry the authorities. The government has organized numerous cyberspace cleanups in the past years, during which they have deleted countless social media accounts, censored sensitive words and phrases, even monitored private messages and posts on the Western social media platforms. Also, the government employs thousands upon millions of people, who help with policing the internet, some estimate the number to be around 2 million.
However, the social media censorship and message deletion is only a mere part of a vast governmental body that has a lot more power to control the contents of the internet entirely. It is known as the Golden Shield Project or the National Public Security Work Informational Project.
The Golden Shield Project was launched in 1998, after the dismantlement of China’s Democratic Party and imprisonment of its members. Such actions took place due to the Communist Party fearing the China Democratic Party would be able to create a robust network, which could not be controlled by the authorities. The Golden Shield Project does not merely involve the Internet censorship and control, it has a multi-layered system, which comprises of various governmental departments, such as the technical, public security, national security, and publicity departments.
The Golden Shield Project is also believed to partially manage the Great Firewall of China (officially, the Ministry of Public Security is in charge of the GFW, but GSP may affect it as well), which is a well-known term around the world.
The Great Firewall is specifically a censorship and surveillance project, which focuses on blocking controversial data from abroad. The Great Firewall, same as the Golden Shield Project was launched back in 1998 and has been censoring politically damaging content ever since. This project combines both legislative and technological capabilities of the PRC to regulate the domestic Internet – it blocks access to foreign websites and applications, slows down cross-border communications, and requires foreign companies to adapt to the local requirements. Such actions while hurting the international businesses have helped the local businesses immensely, as they have been able to build up their brand in China. If Twitter, Google, and WhatsApp were not banned, maybe the Chinese would have never had created Weibo, Baidu, and WeChat.
The Golden Shield Project and the Great Firewall have some similarities and differences. The similarities are most noticeable in the methods of content blocking. Commonly used means are blocking IP addresses and domains, URL filtering, Man-in-the-middle attacks. However, there are also numerous distinct features. For example, the Golden Shield Project in particular monitors the domestic internet connections and contents. It is also a public security system, more interested in gathering the information about the citizens to foresee any plausible disturbances caused by more suspicious individuals. On the other hand, the Great Firewall is a central propaganda system, which filters out any inconvenient information from abroad seeping in through social media and other foreign websites. Anything that may not align with the narrative of the Communist Party online gets taken care of by the Great Firewall.
These two projects are immense and might be managed by thousands if not millions of people, who work every day to monitor the internet, block various domains, and censor damaging keywords. They also have an incredible amount of data on the Chinese citizens – from ID numbers to daily online activities.
Nonetheless, this powerful machine can still be circumvented, and many people in China do so every day. Almost everyone is aware of such services as proxy servers, onion routing, or such tools as Psiphon. Still, the best option remains a VPN service (such as NordVPN), which unlike other possibilities will not merely allow access to the censored content, but also make sure that the user’s connection is fully encrypted and protected.
Image: Matteo Damiani
Also published on Medium.