By The Associated Press
BEIJING (AP) _ Authorities in a southern Chinese city require that Internet cafes pay close attention to the operating systems used on their computers, saying the rule should promote wider use of legitimate software. But is it really a way to help the authorities snoop on users?
The new rules that went into effect Nov. 5 in the city of Nanchang require operators of Internet cafes to remove unlicensed software and replace it with legitimate copies of either Microsoft Windows or China's homegrown Red Flag Linux operating system. The goal is to cut down on pirated software, said Hu Shenghua, a spokesman for the Culture Bureau in the city of Nanchang.
However, Radio Free Asia, funded by the U.S. government, reported Wednesday that cafes were being required to install Red Flag Linux even if they were using authorized copies of Windows. The radio service quoted Xiao Qiang, director of the California-based China Internet Project, as saying the step would help authorities regulate Internet cafes that now operate on the margins of the law — and allow the officials to undertake heightened surveillance.
Fan Hongguan, a spokesman for Beijing-based Red Flag Software, declined to comment.
Chinese who access the Web at Internet cafes are already required to register with their identification cards. Whether accessed from home or an Internet cafe, the Web within China is regularly patrolled by monitors looking for content deemed politically subversive or related to pornography or criminal activity.
Large numbers of Web sites are blocked and dozens of Chinese citizens have been arrested for accessing or sending politically sensitive information over the Web. Despite such prosecutions, China has the world's largest population of Internet users with 253 million, and authorities are eager to encourage Internet usage as a driver for commerce. Internet cafes are patronized mainly by migrant workers, the rural poor and online gaming enthusiasts.
By The Associated Press
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