Forbidden words

September 16, 2004

WHAT'S WRONG with the following conversation?

"I want freedom to dream."

"You protest too much."

"It's the truth."

What's wrong is that it contains certain keywords -- freedom, protest, truth -- that China's Internet nannies are trying to block in transmissions via the nation's most widely used instant-messaging service.

Hackers recently obtained a copy of the government filtering program covertly installed on Chinese users' computers when they sign up for the IM service; it also blocks keywords in e-mail and phone text messages from those computers.

The program goes far beyond China's already extensive efforts to control the Internet upstream, through filters on search engines and cyber-portals to the world. Its list of banned words and phrases -- more than 1,000 keywords -- also provides a precise field guide to the fears of China's rulers.

It contains references common not only in political discourse (democracy and popular opinion) but also in chatter about sex (condom and prostitute), corruption (public funds and smuggling), the banned Falun Gong sect (master and disciple), certain hot buttons (Tibet and Taiwan), and national leaders (by their derogatory nicknames).

Each word or phrase is apparently considered so potentially subversive that it cannot be spoken, a chilling level of control.

But the bet here is that the Chinese people -- long used to sidestepping Beijing by conversing in code and increasingly technically adept -- will find plenty of ways to defeat it. Let a hundred hackers bloom!

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.