China Creates New Agency for Patrolling the Internet

By: Michael Wines, New York Times
By: Michael Wines, New York Times

BEIJING — A powerful arm of China’s government is watching the creation of a new central agency to regulate every corner of the nation’s vast Internet community, a move that appeared to complement a continuing crackdown on political dissidents and other social critics.

But the vaguely worded announcement left unclear whether the new agency, the State Internet Information Office, would in fact supersede a welter of ministries and other government offices that already claim jurisdiction over parts of cyberspace.

China’s State Council Information Office said it was transferring its own staff of Internet regulators to the new agency, which would operate under its jurisdiction. Among many other duties, the agency will direct “online content management;” supervise online gaming, video and publications; promote major news Web sites; and oversee online government propaganda. The agency will also have authority to investigate and punish violators of online content rules, and it will oversee the huge telecommunications companies that provide access for Internet users and content providers alike.

The State Council is a cabinetlike agency that effectively manages the government’s day-to-day operations. Two former officials at its Information Office will run the new agency, and executives from two central ministries — public security and information technology — will also serve in senior positions, the announcement stated.

The mushrooming growth of China’s Internet business has spawned a sort of land rush for regulatory turf by government agencies that see in it a chance to gain more authority or more money, or both. At least 14 government units, from the culture and information technology ministries to offices that oversee films and books, have some hand in what appears on China’s Internet. Others have interests in Internet-related ventures like the sale of censorship software that could prove to be lucrative sources of income.

Wednesday’s announcement indicated that the new office would work with other government units that regulate parts of the Internet, which could dilute internal opposition. But the sweeping nature of the announcement left some experts unconvinced.

“My guess is that it’s going to be quite a fight for these existing regulators to give up power, because it’s such a big and lucrative endeavor,” Bill Bishop, a Beijing-based independent analyst of the Internet industry, said an interview. “It’s not clear from this announcement, either in English or Chinese, whether the new agency is going to oversee them or coordinate with them.”


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