China To Scan, Censor SMS
By Carlo Longino, Fri Jul 02 17:15:00 GMT 2004

Chinese authorities are putting new technology in place to block "pornographic, obscene and fraudulent" text messages, though many outsiders see it as a move to clamp down on political dissidents.

The government expects mobile phone carriers and ISPs to participate in its censorship plans as "self-discipline", and will add SMS to the list of media already scanned for non-conformist content, including e-mail, online chat rooms, and certain foreign Web sites, even though it says it's focusing on porn, spam and scam messages.

A Chinese company has started selling an SMS sureveillance system that uses filtering algorithms to scan messages in real-time for keywords and combinations of words, and automatically alert police and store flagged messages. The free-media group Reporters Without Borders says the company, Venus Info Tech Ltd., said in a press release the system "would allow it to home in on 'false political rumors' and 'reactionary remarks' among others." China Mobile, the country's biggest carrier, has already said it would start screening messages sent by its more than 150 million users for pornographic content.

The group also says China has 2,800 SMS surveillance centers, which were utilized in early 2003 to monitor SMS being sent about the SARS epidemic in the country. About 100 people were arrested for spreading "false rumors" via SMS about the disease as the government tried to cover up the outbreak.

It's not the first time oppressive regimes have attempted to crack down on new mobile technologies, and likely won't be the last, either. These governments know that a free flow of information threatens their power and empowers their citizens -- and mobile technology makes spreading anti-establishment news quicker and easier. The question now is if the Chinese will be able to get the genie back in the bottle.