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China snoops on text messages

Stamping out out 'false political rumours'

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China has extended its hard-line stand against human rights and personal freedom by introducing new rules to monitor and censor the use of text messages.

According to state media, by way of AFP, the "Self-Discipline Standards on Content in Mobile Short Messaging Services" have been brought in to tackle porn, fraud and other dodgy content.

But critics claim this is yet another move by Chinese authorities to clampdown on personal freedoms. They claim that the idea that the new rules will be used to tackle mobile phone fraud is just a smokescreen. Instead, they insist that the surveillance technology will be used to identify "reactionary" texters and pinpoint those spreading "false political rumours" and "reactionary remarks".

Condemning the move media rights group, Reporters Without Borders, said: "The Chinese authorities are making ever greater use of new technology to control the circulation of news and information. In the past months we have been witnessing a real downturn in press freedom particularly on the Internet. The international community should react against this hardening by the Chinese regime."

According to information obtained by Reporters Without Borders, China has 2,800 SMS surveillance centres. During the SARS epidemic in May 2003, these snooping centres worked flat out to monitor text messages sent about SARS. Around a dozen people were arrested as a result for having spread "false rumours" through their mobile phones, said the media rights group.

Last month, Chinese websites, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and other Internet-related organisations across the country were "invited" to sign a self-discipline pact drawn up by the Beijing-based China Internet Association to prevent the spread of anti-government information, porn and anything else that might threaten "national security (and) social stability". ®

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