BOB GARFIELD: This week, Reporters without Borders released a handbook for bloggers and cyber-dissidents chock-full of advice for Internet users wishing to evade censors and maintain their independence amid government controls of online media. The handbook can be downloaded in several languages, including French, Arabic and Farsi. It's also available in Mandarin, which is probably a good thing, since measures passed this week by the Chinese government will make online communications within China even more difficult and fraught with peril than it already was. Here to speak with us about the new laws is Xiao Qiang, the Director of the Berkeley China Internet Project at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Xiao, welcome back to On the Media.
XIAO QIANG: Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: First of all, can you tell us what's actually outlawed or restricted by the new regulations that wasn't outlawed or restricted before?
XIAO QIANG: There are two additional items that didn't happen before, which is, A, you cannot use Internet to advocate illegal organization activities. Another one is cannot use Internet to organize demonstrations, assemblings if it is illegal. These two new items are clearly focused on the capacity of organizing of the Internet, which this power recently been demonstrated by the anti-Japanese protesters this spring, and the government certainly is fully aware of this potential.
BOB GARFIELD: That was a case where the government may have been sympathetic with the sentiment of the protest but was terrified by how quickly they sprung up from nothing around the country.
XIAO QIANG: That's right. The Internet became a catalyst of those social activism, and that's what the Chinese government's really afraid of. Another aspect is the Internet as an alternative media. No matter how much resources the government put in to build their propaganda sites, the Internet users simply just bypass the government censor effort and the propaganda efforts. And that really worries the government.
BOB GARFIELD: And so one of the new provisions obliges individuals and groups to register as an official news organization before they're permitted to distribute any kind of news or commentary online. Now - [OVERTALK]
XIAO QIANG: Right.
BOB GARFIELD: - you talk about your chilling effect.
XIAO QIANG: Yes. I mean, this certainly has chilling effect. Another thing government does is this what we call "undercover" online commentators: government actually paying undercover agents to go into the online forums trying to steer the public opinion but without revealing their own real identities. So there is an irony here. The government is using those agents without telling the netizens who they are and trying to sort of shape the online space. At same time, the government force all the websites, all the weblogs to be registered with a real identity, and therefore the Internet police can hold them responsible to the individual behind those information.
BOB GARFIELD: For almost 40 years, the West has been trying to engage with China and to trade with the Chinese economy in hopes of bringing Chinese politics values around to something more closely resembling democracy. What is the West supposed to do in reaction to this new law?
XIAO QIANG: Coming to the West, it is a matter of fact that China is part of the globalization process. Internet is a big enabler for this process. When you are an especially information technology company trying to expand your Chinese market, you have to be fully aware that this is also a country that just by sending e-mail or expressing some different opinions from the government, those individual Internet users can be sentenced or imprisoned by the Chinese police.
BOB GARFIELD: Well, I'm glad you brought that subject up, because earlier this month Yahoo admitted that it had given the Chinese government information about the Web use of a Chinese journalist, information that was used in convicting him of espionage. Now, Yahoo has said, and I think Google said something in a similar incident a year or so earlier, that it was simply a case of obeying local laws. But what about the problem of being a collaborator in political repression?
XIAO QIANG: They were collaborating with the Chinese authority. In my view, they collaborated more than their legal obligations. Yahoo is probably the only international company who holds that much detail of the users' information, meaning if you want to have a Yahoo e-mail account you have to provide your address, your phone number, unlike using some other services. So Yahoo bears a specific responsibility for their users to protect their privacy. All these companies, whether Google or Yahoo, they are the pioneers of the information revolution. They all have a lovely mission statement in their trotters, but coming to the situation in China, unless they make a serious effort, they're not going to get away from the image of collaborating with the Chinese Internet police, and the consequences is devastating for those political prisoners in China.
BOB GARFIELD: All right. Well, Xiao, as always, thank you very much.
XIAO QIANG: You're welcome. Thank you for having me.
BOB GARFIELD: Xiao Qiang directs the Berkeley China Internet Project at the University of California at Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
copyright 2005 WNYC Radio