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China to read, censor SMSes

The world’s largest cell phone market is going under unprecedented surveillance as China’s rising censorship prepares to invade personal text messages.

world Updated: Jan 21, 2010 00:35 IST
HT Correspondent

The world’s largest cell phone market is going under unprecedented surveillance as China’s rising censorship prepares to invade personal text messages.

Users who send ‘unhealthy and illegal’ messages as defined by unknown criteria of propriety may find their messaging service suddenly suspended.

These users will have to promise the police not to send ‘bad’ messages to be allowed to SMS again.

Nine government departments have listed 13 undisclosed criteria to judge text messages. An automatic filtering system will pounce on improper messages by honing in on key words.

“Everyone seems to be under watch,’’ said the State-run Global Times.

The reports said all cell phone operators would execute the censorship but it remained unclear how the system would distinguish between risque personal texting and peddling porn. “What if I send messages with sexual content to my wife? Am I also going to be suspended?” asked a Shanghai netizen on an online forum.

Outraged Chinese netizens are still debating the threatened walkout of Google over online censorship and official attempts last year to ‘further limit free speech’.

“When a suspected unhealthy message is detected, China Mobile will temporarily suspend the message function of the user and wait for evaluation from police,’’ said the China Daily. “If the police confirm the message contains unhealthy content, the user’s phone number will be temporarily banned from sending messages. If the police say the message is fine, it will issue a certificate to the user to seek redemption of service.” The Global Times said that eight ministries are working to ‘wipe out’ mobile porn nationwide.

Text messaging and the Internet was cut-off until this month in Xinjiang since ethnic riots erupted last July. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and thousands of websites and blogs are still blocked across China.