China’s Answer To Fraud: Cybercops

The Chinese government is planning to step up its national cybersecurity by setting up police units at the major Internet companies to avert fraud, crimes and rumors, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported.

While the Ministry of Public Security didn’t specify the companies it would be working with for setting up police units, it did say that the move was directed at improving the national security and social stability of Chinese nationals who are quick to fall victim to “cyberattack[s], Internet fraud and personal information leakage.”

If the government’s statement was to be analyzed, the major Internet companies most likely to get affected would be eCommerce giant Alibaba, search engine Baidu and Tencent Holdings, which is the parent company of the popular instant messaging services QQ and WeChat.

As of now, it’s not clear if the cyberpolice units would work with just the domestic Chinese companies or if the government also plans to embed those units in international companies operating out of China, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Though the government has justified its plan as a necessary step towards protecting its citizens, the government’s crackdown on social media platforms for censorship is widely known across the world and suggests the move to be more directed towards cybersurveillance than cybersecurity.

Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a Washington-based think tank, seemed to agree. Atkinson told WSJ that he saw two motives behind the move. “The first is to limit free speech and exert more state control on information flows. But the second is to push the Internet industry in China even more firmly into being fully indigenous,” he said.

To maintain “social stability,” the Chinese government has been very vocal and active against Internet users “spreading rumors” and so has been known to take strict actions against companies failing to comply with its censorship policy.

Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, and its parent company Sina Corp. are two such examples. In April, the Cyberspace Administration of China publicly threatened to shutdown Sina if the company didn’t improve its censorship paradigm, according to WSJ.

But as the government’s crackdown gets more intense, Chinese users are increasingly building up a second language of sorts to bypass keywords, which are picked up by media platforms and are often deleted. Some reports suggest that the Chinese government has more than 100,000 employees on payroll just to monitor Web traffic and a “50-Cent Army,” which are employees hired by the government to spread pro-government messages and to steer online public conversations away from sensitive topics.

The new policy measures would also help China in steering clear of any cyberfraud accusations from foreign governments. In recent years, the Chinese government has been accused by several countries for being too lackadaisical in controlling cyberattacks originating from China.

The government was recently accused of a decade of constant cyberattacks against governments and corporations in South Asian countries.

Also, the recent cyberattack on the U.S. Office of Personnel Management that led to a compromise of information on 4 million current and former federal employees is yet another example where findings pointed towards China as the country of origin of the attack.

Though the U.S. government has not formally accused the Chinese government, Beijing has reportedly called itself a victim of hacking and not the wrongdoer.

The new cyberpolice would put an end to such accusations and acts of cyberfraud affecting local and international bodies and would help clear itself as the source of cyberfraud.

“The units will be able to get a fast grasp on suspected illegal online activities and serve and direct the websites to improve their ability to safeguard security,” Xinhua wrote.

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