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Internet Café in China
Internet Café in China
Philippe Bernard and Brice Pedroletti

JINAN - How to “surf” anonymously on the Web, in a country – China – where cybercafés ask for proof of ID before you are allowed to log onto the Internet?

In order to circumvent this requirement, Mr Guo, owner of a cybercafé in Jinan city, northeastern Chinese Shandong Province, had found a perfect solution: he provided his clients with a fake ID card under the name of U.S. President Barack Obama.

The ID had Barack Obama’s name, address – 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue – and his “ethnic origin” – “Kenyan” – in accordance with the Chinese law that requires this mention on ID cards (Obama’s father was born in Kenya). This fake document was made from a real ID, which had been forgotten in the cybercafé by a client in 2010. The original information was simply changed.

“Barack Obama” had been surfing a lot in this establishment of Jinan. The fake ID was massively used, not only by clients looking for anonymity, but also by minors who do not have an ID.

Unfortunately, the American dream of anonymous “surf” ended abruptly. The Jinan police put an end to it. Stunned, they discovered during a routine check on May 28, that Mr. “Obama” was a regular at the cybercafé. The state-owned news website Sdnews.com.cn, indicates that Guo was given an unspecified “sentence.” In China, The use of a fake ID is punishable by a fine of 1000 Yuan (125 euros) and up to 10 days in jail.

Chinese cybercafés are often used as a discrete Internet access point for citizens wanting to escape the “Great Firewall of China.” In hotels, the clients’ identity is systematically transmitted to the local police. Petitioners, plaintiffs, bloggers and other protesters enjoy a more flexible control in cybercafés; it is not rare to see people spend the night in these little cyber havens.

Censorship

These establishments also harbor young people who are completely addicted to video games. The Beijing Times recently profiled a young man called Li Meng, who spent his last six years in front of a screen at a cybercafé in Changchun, in the north-east of the country, for an average “rent” of $80 a month. In 2011, the press had reported the death of a man in his thirties at a cybercafé in Beijing, who had spent three straight days and nights without food or sleep. He was playing a game where you have to fight aliens.

Obama’s fake cybercafé ID reminds us of a speech by the U.S. president during a 2009 visit in Shanghai, where he argued in favor of uncensored Internet access. At the time, the U.S. embassy had asked the Chinese public to ask questions to the president during an online chat, which was uncensored. The public response was huge.

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