Lhasa residents who seek to use the Internet must acquire an “Internet Browsing Registration Card” available for a modest cost (less than US $2) from the cyber cafe. A form requiring passport or citizen identification (Ch:shen fen zheng) information must be filled out at the time of application. The cards are issued by the Office of Public Information, Internet Security of the Lhasa Public Security Bureau (Ch: gong an ju), which also licenses the cyber cafes.
“The registration is simple,” a 28-year old Tibetan girl told ICT. “Without the card you cannot use the Internet.”
The main branch office the Office of Public Information, Internet Security of the Lhasa Public Security Bureau is on Duodi South Avenue, formerly Togde Lam, opposite the Prefectural Cultural Relics Department. This is also the location where Tibetans suspected of visiting banned websites or receiving emails referring to Tibetan independence have been interrogated.
“We know that what we see in our emails or on websites the police can watch as well,” Chime, a 25-year old recently arrived Tibetan refugee in Kathmandu, told ICT.
Tourists visiting Lhasa do not need to use the Internet card as cyber cafe workers can bypass the security element from the cafe’s mainframe computer.
Chinese authorities have long used dense filtering systems to screen and block items containing politically sensitive terms such as human rights, Dalai Lama, Tibet, Taiwan, Falun Gong, or June 4, the date of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. Many Western media outlets are also on the long list of websites the Chinese government attempts to stop users from visiting.
The new system of registration for Internet use in Lhasa is a step beyond filters as it allows authorities to easily track anything that is viewed on the computer screen and place an individual’s name with a visited website.
“This isn’t surprising,” 18-year old Gyaltsen told ICT, referring to the new Internet card. “We will just have to find another way around their watchful eyes.”
In conversations in 2001 in Xining (Qinghai Province) and early 2003 in Lhasa, Internet cafe workers told ICT that PSB officers had regularly entered the cyber cafe to install tracking software. The police officers would check back regularly to collect information on the websites visited; however, the system did not allow the police to know the exact individual who visited the banned websites.
“We definitely had to tell people not to visit blue [pornographic] websites or ones that talked about Tibetan independence,” a Lhasa Internet cafe worker told ICT in 2003. “We would often times get reprimanded if people were caught on those sites in our cyber shop.”
To gain access to blocked sites, web surfers in Tibet and China have become skillful in recent years with proxy or intermediary websites that have allowed them to elude what some Chinese democracy activist have called, the Great Red Firewall. When authorities learn of these cyber loopholes, the proxy sites are immediately blocked.
Tibetans in Lhasa have told ICT that PSB and Internet security officers (Ch: wang jing) in Lhasa sometimes detain individuals for lengthy interrogations regarding suspicions of visiting banned websites or reading emails from India.
One Tibetan whose name cannot be released told ICT that the new registration cards will be used, “mainly to check the exchange of information between Tibetans inside and outside.”
The same Tibetan told ICT that in mid 2003, a day after receiving an email from a westerner that contained politically sensitive words in the sender’s address, the police took the person in for questioning. After being questioned for nearly six hours at the main Lhasa police station on Lingkor Lam, the individual was taken to the Office of Internet Welfare and Protection and intensively interrogated for three more hours.
“Tibetan police officers asked me if I had checked my email the day before at the same Internet cafe and was I looking at Dharamsala websites,” the young Tibetan told ICT. “The police told me, ‘You know www.tibet.com don’t you?'” referring to the Tibetan government-in-exile’s website.
“They asked if I printed out messages [or] if I print illegal things and read them and distribute them,” the Tibetan continued.
“I do not know of anyone who has been caught for checking illegal websites or printing off things from www.tibet.com so I don’t know what the repercussions would be exactly but they are definitely trying to catch people doing it. This is the whole reason for the Internet identification cards.”
According to information available from independent Chinese internet monitoring groups, similar technology controls have been or will soon be implemented in China’s Shandong Province and elsewhere. The new controls will allow public security officials to obtain real-time information about Internet users and are meant as tools to more effectively “strike against Internet crimes” and provide an “assurance of Internet security and social stability.”
Xinhua News Agency on April 21 reported the purchase of nearly US $1 million in software “to carry out comprehensive long-term monitoring” and repress illegal activities in Internet cafes.
Linyi City in Shandong Province, all Internet cafes must use the Internet card system and are forbidden to allow persons without a card to access the Internet According to a China Information Center report. Internet cafe staff must enter the card purchaser’s card number, name, gender and age in a Member Registry Book. Any discovery of the use of fake identification must be immediately reported to the Public Security Office.
Translation Of The Individual Internet Browsing Card (see images above)
[Front side of the card, above the Potala palace letters written in red]:
Lhasa City Internet Browsing Service Regional Network
[Letter written in blue]:
Individual Internet Browsing Card
[Back of the ID card written in white on orange]:
Internet Browsing Registration Card
[small text to the right, black on orange, top]:
Telephone number for contacting authorities
[small text to the right, black on orange, bottom]:
Email address for contacting authorities
[top 4 characters on lighter background]:
1. The user must adhere to the laws and regulations of the country.
2. The user must possess the user ID card, if it is lost the user should report loss immediately to the concerned office.
3. Internet browsing card cannot be rented or lent to others to use.
4. This card should be well preserved, should not be bent or written over and should avoid high temperature as well as strong magnetic fields.
Registration number: [personal identification number matched with passport or citizen card].
The head office from where this card issued:
[Letter written on green, last sentence]:
Issued by the office of Public Information, Internet Security, Lhasa City Public Security Bureau of the Tibet Autonomous Region