New requirements by officials in the southern Chinese city of Nanchang that are forcing Internet cafes to remove unlicensed software and replace it with legitimate copies are raising concerns over cyber snooping.
According to a report from The Associated Press, the new rules requiring operators to replace any erroneous software with legitimate went into affect last month. Cyber cafes in the city of almost five million people must now replace all unlicensed software with that of Microsoft or China's homegrown Red Flag Linux while paying a fee.
The news service quoted Hu Shenghua, Spokesperson for the Culture Bureau of Nanchang, as stating that the new rules were intended to crack down on the use of pirated software.
However, Radio Free Asia, a radio station funded by the US Government, stated that cafes were being required to install Red Flag Linux even if they were using authorised copies of Windows. It quoted Xiao Qiang, Director for the California-based China Internet Project, as stating that the new rules would help authorities regulate Internet cafes that may now operate on the margins of the law while allowing them to undertake heightened surveillance.
Chinese accessing the web using Internet cafes are already required to register with their identification cards while specially trained monitors looking for content deemed politically subversive regularly patrol the virtual space. Sites related to gambling, pornography or illegal business dealings are also considered unacceptable. In addition, officials have blocked large numbers of websites while arresting dozens of people for accessing or sending politically sensitive information.
Despite these barriers, China has the world’s largest population of Internet users with 253 million and authorities are eager to encourage people online in order to stimulate the economy. Radio Free Asia stated that the nation’s Internet cafes are particularly popular with gaming enthusiasts along with migrant workers and the rural poor.