A new study by Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society reveals the extensiveness of China’s web filtering policies. Beginning in May 2002 and concluding in Nov. 2002, Berkman Center researchers attempted to access approximately 200,000 web sites through telephone dial-up links and proxy servers in China. The authors of the study tracked 19,032 web sites that were inaccesssible from China on multiple occasions while remaining available in the United States. These sites contained information about news, politics, health, commerce and entertainment. The researchers concluded:

“Ordinary users will find themselves blocked when seeking to access web sites across a range of sensitive subjects, from AIDS to falun dafa to many Taiwanese sites,” said Professor Jonathan Zittrain, faculty co-director of the Berkman Center and co-author of the study. “Others who have no interest in finding sensitive material will still encounter blocking, because entire web servers are frequently blocked. Perhaps due to a sensitive student home page or the availability of encryption software at MIT, that university’s entire web server — from admissions to athletics — appears blocked from Chinese public view.”

The researchers also concluded that China possibly has the most of extensive filtering program in the world. “China blocks the most sites of any country we have examined to date,” said Ben Edelman, a first-year law student and study co-author. “Certainly China blocks far more than Saudi Arabia, and also more than any American library or public school that follows ‘recommended’ settings from commercial providers of filtering software.”

The report is intended as a milepost, part of an ongoing empirical investigation documenting filtering levels and methods over time. As researchers continue to collect data on the evolving accessibility of a diversified “basket” of web sites, they will seek to say more about overall trends in Chinese web filtering. Additionally, they will examine if such trends are credibly linked to government statements of Internet policy and, for particular categories of sensitive sites, whether shifts in the Chinese government’s substantive policy (for example, a noted change in tension levels with Taiwan) are reflected in levels of web filtering.

Related Links