|Surfers of the Internet in China will soon be greeted by virtual police officers warning them that they are being monitored.|
Beijing’s Public Security Bureau said that images of the Beijing Internet Police, one male and one female dressed in uniform and saluting, would start popping up every half hour from Saturday on computer screens run by 13 major portals based in the Chinese capital.
The Bureau said that the cyber cops would be on the lookout for websites and Internet activities that incite secession, promote superstition, gambling, fraud and pornography.
'It is our duty to wipe out information that does public harm and disrupts social order,' said Zhao Hongzhi, Deputy Chief of Internet Surveillance for Beijing’s Public Security Bureau.
As well as offering a reminder that they are being watched, web users can also click on the cyber police to connect with the Internet surveillance centre and report suspicious activities.
'The virtual police officers will faithfully fulfil their duties, listen to the suggestions of ‘netizens’ and protect them from harm,' said Hongzhi.
Chinese cyber cops first appeared on portals based in the southern city of Shenzhen last year and, while local authorities have introduced them as a reassuring presence for web surfers, it will almost certainly give further ammunition to critics of China's attempts to restrict the Internet.
Reporters Without Borders accused China in February of spearheading an increasingly sophisticated movement by repressive regimes around the world to restrict the Internet using new technologies and old-fashioned manpower.
'China spends an enormous amount on Internet surveillance equipment and hires armies of informants and cyber police,' said the media watchdog in its annual report.
'With China enjoying increasing political influence, people are wondering whether, perhaps, China's Internet model, based on censorship and surveillance, may, one day, be imposed on the rest of the world.'