Chinese Hackers Crack Net Censorship; but Politics Boring to Most

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 7, 2008 | Go to article overview

Chinese Hackers Crack Net Censorship; but Politics Boring to Most


Byline: Edward Lanfranco, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

BEIJING - Chinese Internet censorship is little more than a joke to Li Shenwen, an unemployed computer game enthusiast who remained glued to his keyboard well past midnight in a dingy "Wangba" or "NetBar" on a recent Saturday night.

Official blocks on controversial or political Web sites pose no obstacle to any experienced user who wants to get past them, said Mr. Li, who picks up spending money by amassing points in computer games and selling them to a broker who in turn sells them online to avid but inept Western gamers.

Reluctant to be distracted from his profitable pursuit, Mr. Li, in his mid-20s, offered a $14 wager that he could get to any three blocked sites in less than five minutes. The bet was made.

Opening a new browser, he promptly brought up outlawed content in Chinese and English from YouTube, Voice of America, Falun Gong and, for added measure, Reporters Without Borders - all within less than three minutes.

"You could have asked anyone here to do this," Mr. Li said with a wave around the room. But he added, they are more interested in using skills to access restricted pornography sites than to read about politics.

"I don't care about the stuff you want to see. What's the point?" he asked.

China now has or will soon have the world's largest Internet population, having drawn roughly equal with the 215 million American users after a 53 percent increase last year, according to the China Internet Network Information Center.

And while Western human rights groups agonize over China's use of technology to censor the Internet, a great many of those Chinese Web users are much like Mr. Li - tech savvy but bored by politics.

Nevertheless, Chinese authorities are relentless in their efforts to weed out access to what they consider inappropriate content - an effort that is becoming even more determined in the run-up to the Beijing Olympic Games, which begin in August.

Officials are acutely aware that presence in China of 20,000 journalists and a predicted 500,000 visitors will offer a prime opportunity for political dissidents to air their grievances to a worldwide audience.

The most recent Internet content to come under the censors' thumb is user-generated and -posted videos of the sort that have become widely popular on the U. …

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