Censorship? I “Doth Protest”


It’s well known that censorship in China stifles many forms of electronic communication and media, such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Gmail. Now, the New York Times reports that regulations have become even stiffer, ever since the government caught whiffs of plans to organize China-based protests after uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa. Several virtual-private-network services have been disrupted, and many users of Gmail, Google’s email service which is located in Hong Kong, have been unable to access their accounts for the last several weeks. (According to New York Times) Even cell phone calls are being monitored, according to a caller in Beijing who had quoted Shakespeare’s “The lady doth protest too much, methinks” to his girlfriend and was abruptly disconnected.

Read the New York Times full story here:

China Tightens Censorship of Electronic Communications

But, is this true?

Can anyone reproduce such experience? Shanghai Scrap actually conducted the fact-checking experiment, and found no disconnected phone calls not only for quoting Shakespeare, but even repeating the word “PROTEST” fiercely into the phone.  And thanks Fons Tuinstra for his post “The false NYT China censorship story”.

(Edited by Key)

    1. haha, Thanks Fons Tuinstra, when I do not assume this story is correct but found it amusing. I will update it with Adam’s debunking post and your link.

  1. Huh, some stories just “smell” from far.
    In this specific case, I hardly can imagine how it would be at all possible to monitor every single telephone call for certain words.
    Half of people would have to do this job monitoring the other half, and then they would change the shifts 🙂

    1. I can’t even guess as to the accuracy of the report but I can address how to do the project of monitoring calls in the modern world. It would be expensive to monitor *every* call, but it isn’t dependent at all on people doing the listening. Haven’t you ever called a big company and the computerized answering system says ‘press or say x for y’? It just becomes a task of how much computer power you want to buy to monitor calls. Depending on the price of computing per call probably only a certain percentage of calls could be checked. Keep in mind one modern PC can handle several so the kinds of large scale computers that governments can afford can handle a lot.

      1. PS – As an example, look at this unclassified computer the US Air Force built to process visual data from spy planes. It is supposed to be able to track everything going (people, vehicles, etc) on in a piece of land 40 square km and automatically decide what is important enough to report to its human operator: http://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2011/03/rome_labs_supercomputer_is_mad.html
        And it only cost 2 and a half million USD.
        Comparing that kind of video processing to simple voice communication and we see it would not take much to make a supercomputer that could listen to MANY phone calls automatically.

        1. The Chi coms are using passive scanning against random targets. The Shakespeare quote can not be duplicated because the monitoring was random and could have even been area specific to head off a local fear of protest or activism.

    2. Its so possible. Especially when every foreigner and employee of the media are highly tracked. Once upon a time the word bomb X building, or shoot person A in gov was able to be picked up from any where in US. The patriot act rings any bells. Cell phone and computers go thru similar firewalls to filter out certain things. Hell China divide and Chinahush were both blocked because 1 of us typed in Falun Gong.

      Have you noticed to start up a new cell phone service you have to bring your ID to input in the system? Foreigners have to register with the police as soon as they get in the country. To get a land line or DSL service you have to be a hukou holder of that city. If you go to an internet cafe you have to have your ID registered before using their computers. They can come and get you anytime they want or limit your steps.

  2. I’m not sure why everyone is assuming that this is software-based. It’s entirely possible, nay probable, that this happens when you’re on a list and someone from the PSB (or wherever) is actively listening to your conversations.

    Voice-recognizing software filtration doesn’t really make any sense, it would destroy way more regular conversations than “dissident” ones, and dissidents could get around it quickly with code words. Plus, it would be impossible to tweak so that it worked given all of China’s regional accents and dialects. Plus, why would it work with English?

    It is obviously NOT software based, which means all these “tests” are more or less pointless. If the PSB isn’t listening to you, of course nothing’s going to happen. With all due respect to Adam Minter, I don’t think the PSB is listening in on his phone conversations. But is the PSB monitoring the phone lines of the NY Times’s China correspondents? Almost certainly.

    Now, the NYT writers should probably have either made the difference more clear, or done and reported on more thorough testing. But the article doesn’t say anything about phones automatically disconnecting whenever someone says protest, that’s just something a lot of people assumed the story was implying. Clunky writing, yes. Could it have been more well researched? Sure. But is it a made-up load of BS? No.

    1. I beg to differ, you are implying that there is no software out there isn’t capable of recognizing without an actual body ease dropping in? Wasn’t IBM in conjunction with some firm trying to come out with this answer to language barriers a couple of years ago? I can agree that software maybe flawed to a large degree but to say it isn’t feasible is a gross assumption. The tech is out there and somebody in our neck of the woods sold it to them right around the time of the olympics and China is now more oppressive, suppressive nation than those who are losing their control over their people.

    2. After reading your thing again, who is to say these people were targeted or on a watch list per say? If the conversations are cryptic in the first isn’t that in it self subversion or some form of intent to subvert or rally a group against the GOV and against the law? Within their right to send secret police to arrest the targets. Throwing that 1 out there. But for the everyday joe blow who has no connections in China to have his services disrupted over key words typed or spoken can easily be done. I know Chinese Skype blocks all widely used forms of profanity to seen by the typer. I know that even the cryptic porn titles in Chinese have to be re invented for asian and white porn every day but they don’t block black porn. Just recently they have been able to crack down on allot of the VPN services privately maintained for isolated uses especially when they were having the congressional meetings a month back. Security was really beefed up then. My company’s private servers were rendered unusable in china but no problems in any other of my location.I had to write a new VPN for my OWN VPN network as a bandaid that rendered my service almost unusable it was so fucking slow. My services were magically back to normal 2 days after the fact.

      With the way they are going its only a matter of time before they fully implement it where people will revert back to sending letters again or meeting thru word of mouth like the spies like to do it.

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