China already has some of the most stringent Internet restrictions in the world, but censorship is poised to become even more extreme.
Sites and social networks will no longer just be surveilled by keyword filters and human monitors working remotely. China’s Ministry of Public Security has announced that police will be placed into the offices of major Internet companies.
In a statement, the ministry claimed that its new initiative will strengthen China’s national security by guarding against cyberhacking, communication by terrorist groups, and fraud. The long list of activities it plans to prevent also include pornography, however, which is used as a catch-all offense by the Chinese government. By keeping the definition of pornography vague, it has served as an excuse to shut down the sites and social media accounts of political activists.
The ministry did not disclose which companies it will embed police officers in or when the initiative will go into effect, but it said it has sent notices to China Mobile, the country’s largest telecom, e-commerce giant Alibaba, WeChat owner Tencent, and online security company Qihoo 360.
In a press statement, Alibaba said “Alibaba works with Chinese authorities to combat illegal and criminal activities on the internet. It is our priority to maintain the reliability and security of our platforms to protect our customers.” TechCrunch has also contacted Baidu, China’s largest search engine, and Tencent for comment.
While many of China’s 649 million Internet users will continue to figure out ways to access censored content, the government has shown repeatedly that it is ready to adapt the Great Firewall with even more rigorous limitations.
Restrictions on Internet use in the country have intensified recently. For example, the government plans to replace all foreign technology in its banks, military, state-owned companies, and important government agencies with software produced in China, which is easier to monitor and control, by 2020.
While China claims that an escalation in cyberconflict with the U.S. and other countries makes such measures necessary, the government is also further limiting individual liberties. It began cracking down on VPNs again earlier this year (which it does routinely to keep up with changes in technology), made Gmail even harder to access, and began enforcing real-name registration, all of which make it harder for people to find and share information online.