Top police officer wants security both online and off

10:15, November 03, 2009      

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The country's police chief said the rapid development of the Internet has posed a new challenge to maintaining social stability, as he called for a comprehensive system covering both the real and virtual worlds.

The rare remarks by Minister of Public Security Meng Jianzhu signal more government attention to online opinions but also stricter control on online expression, experts said.

"Currently, the overall social order is good ... but the rapid development of the Internet and loopholes in social management are posing unprecedented challenges to maintaining a stable society," Meng said at a seminar with police chiefs from across the country on Sunday in Hefei, Anhui province, according to a transcript posted on the ministry's website yesterday.

He urged police authorities nationwide to develop a solid control system and information network covering both online and offline.

The Internet, which has grown at a stunning pace in China in recent years, has been an effective way to expose corruption among officials.

A typical case was Zhou Jiugeng, who was sentenced to 11 years in jail last month after his lavish lifestyle was exposed online late last year. Zhou, from Nanjing in Jiangsu province, was convicted of accepting 1.07 million yuan ($170,000) and HK$110,000 ($14,000) in bribes from contractors, subordinate businesses and officials.

However, fake information and new crimes based on the Web have caused security concern.

Internet service has been cut off for almost four months in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region since a deadly riot in Urumqi killed 197 people on July 5. Local authorities blamed separatists for using the Web to instigate public discontent and organize illegal events.

Pu Zhiqiang, a Beijing-based lawyer who has made his name by closely watching the Web and being active in human rights cases, said Meng's remarks show the central government, especially police authorities, have fully realized the double-edged effects of the Internet.

"On one side, the remarks show police will pay more attention to, and better collect, online opinions. Ideally, this will lead to better settlement of problems exposed online," he said.

"However, a closer police watch could also mean stricter control over online expressions, which goes against universal practice," he said.

Zhan Jiang, a journalism professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University, said the Internet has become an irreplaceable source for media as well as the early discloser of scandals.

"Generally, we should thank the Web. For the problems it has brought, we need better legislation and education for our citizens, not stricter control," he said.

Source:China Daily
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