China: When The State Wants To Protect You By Owning Your Privacy

Op-Ed: Some heavy skepticism, and sarcasm, by a Chinese commentator toward a new program that requires Internet cafes in Beijing to pay for a new system to allow authorities to control personal information by online users.

Internet café in Turpan, China.
Internet café in Turpan, China.

BEIJING - In recent weeks, bars, cafes and hotels located in the eastern district of the capital have been required to pay -- at their own expense – 20,000 RMB ($3,105) to set up a "Network monitoring system." This fee permits them to continue providing their customers with the right to surf the Internet on the premises.

Most of these places were told by the police to install a "Safety Management System of Internet Services in Public Places', as reported by the Beijing News. The "system" would provide them with wireless networks, and allow for the government to control the information about the users. How considerate of the police!

We are told that the mandatory installation of the software is being done for the benefit of our Internet citizens, and the public interest more generally. We know that the rapid development of the Internet not only promotes progress in society, but also brings with it negative influences. Many criminals use it for online fraud, drug-trafficking, gambling, and spreading harmful information -- as well as computer viruses. It poses risks for the country and the public interest, and can add major new costs for businesses.

The system is an excellent idea indeed! Just like two years ago, the same justification was used when the Ministry of Industry planned to force people to install a monitoring system called "Green Dam" that was provided free by the government. Eventually, though, this proposal succumbed to public opinion, and was abolished.

The question is who is going to guarantee citizens' privacy? In particular, who is to protect those citizens who use the Internet to anonymously criticize corrupt officials or reveal the authority's abuse of power? We have yet to get an answer on this from the public authority.

But naturally, there are "specialists' who stand out to defend the government's "good intentions." They say the new monitoring system is like the "real-name system" (in this system, computers are installed with software that requires users to apply a specific surfing card by using their ID card. The Internet page will open only if the cardholder's identity has been identified. ) Here it is applied to the Internet cafes, they say, and as long as there's an appropriate managing system, it does not violate personal privacy.

Lessons of the Englightenment

And then the same specialists declare: "To maintain the public's security and the nation's security, it is necessary for the government to have people's privacy in hand."

However the philosophers of the 19th century Enlightenment taught that the power to rule is a necessary evil, and by this same token, alas, it can be called a "good." In other words, the public power, at its best, is just a necessary evil. At its worst, of course, it can be the most terrifying of forces.

In practice, we have so far witnessed the fact that the police do not respect the privacy of petitioners or people who courageously denounce the corruption of the authorities. On the contrary, it is these people's privacy that is revealed to the police.

Some also hold the view that since the customers in Internet cafes are already obliged to use the real-name system, what does it matter to have another software monitoring device?

I strongly contest this idea, and indeed I have never agreed that this system should be practiced in the first place. The public's freedom ought not be restricted indefinitely. Precisely speaking, this so-called "Safety Management System of Internet Services in Public Places' is at most a ministerial regulation, not a law. It is power to limit the people's freedom. And if the authority wants to enact a law to regulate our freedom, the legitimate reason has to be justified.

In addition, if this new system is indeed a good, and a favor granted by public authorities, what on earth are the 20,000 renminbi for!? So allow me to ask a small question: are there any interests and power entangled in all this? I have never liked to guess at possible corruption of some authority, yet if the government is really implementing this system for the good of the public, at least the cost of the software and a public tender should be announced.

It is a very modest request of a citizen.

Photo- Eviltomthai

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Running of the Bulls in Tafalla, northern Spain

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Здравейте!*

Welcome to Monday, where an apparent coup is underway in Sudan, Colombia's most-wanted drug lord gets caught, and Michael Jordan's rookie sneakers score an auction record. We also focus on a report that the Thai government is abusing the country's centuries-old law to protect the monarchy from criticism (lèse-majesté) to target pro-democracy activists and protesters.

[*Zdraveite - Bulgarian]


• Developing: Sudan leaders arrested amid military coup reports: Soldiers have arrested several members of Sudan's transitional government as well as civilian leaders, and Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok has reportedly been put under house arrest, in what the information ministry called a military coup. Pro-democracy protesters have taken to the streets of the capital city Khartoum where there are reports of gunfire and clashes.

• Colombia's most wanted drug lord to be sent to U.S.: Colombia's most dangerous drug trafficker, known as Otoniel, was caught after a joint army, air force and police operation and faces extradition to the U.S. He led the country's largest criminal gang, and was on the U.S. most wanted list for years.

• Xi speech marks China's UN anniversary: China's President Xi Jinping marked the 50th anniversary of Beijing's entry into the United Nations with a speech calling for greater global cooperation, adding that issues like climate change, terrorism and cyber security needed multilateral solutions. Taiwan was not mentioned.

• German ISIS bride jailed for crimes against humanity: A German court has sentenced a German woman and former member of the Islamic State to 10 years in prison for letting a 5-year-old Yazidi enslaved girl die of thirst in Iraq. The case is one of the world's first trials to prosecute a war crime against the Yazidis.

• COVID update: The Beijing marathon scheduled next weekend has been postponed until further notice as China seeks to stamp out Delta variant outbreak and return to zero cases ahead of the Winter Olympics next February. Meanwhile, coronavirus cases in Eastern Europe have surpassed the 20 million mark as the region fights against its worst outbreak since the pandemic started and vaccination efforts lag.

Goodbye, Gunther: U.S. actor James Michael Tyler, best known for his role as the barista Gunther on the TV show Friends, has died at 59 of prostate cancer.

• Sneakers record: A pair of Michael Jordan's white-and-red Nike shoes, which he wore during his rookie season with the Chicago Bulls in 1984, sold for $1.47 million — a new record price for sneakers at auction.


"The end of a boss," titles Colombian daily El Espectador, reporting on the arrest of drug lord Dairo Antonio Usuga, known as Otoniel, who had led Colombia's largest criminal gang and had been on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency's most wanted list for years. He was captured in a raid and will be extradited to the U.S.



A Georgia man is being prosecuted for wire fraud after spending most of his business's COVID relief loan to buy one Pokémon trading card for $57,789.


How Thailand's "Lèse-Majesté" law is used to stifle all protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

👑 Thailand's Criminal Code "Lèse-Majesté" Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family. But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

🚨 The recent report "Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand," documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations." The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

💻 The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them. Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


"Children are going to die. People are going to starve."

— The United Nations warns that Afghanistan verges on a "total breakdown" as millions of Afghans, including children, could die of starvation unless urgent action is taken by the international community. The agency calls for the release of frozen assets to avoid economic and social collapse, despite concerns over the Taliban government. A recent report said that about 97% of Afghanistan's population may sink below the poverty line, and World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director David Beasley warned that more than half of Afghanistan's population of 39 million were facing acute food insecurity and "marching to starvation" in comparison to 14 million two months ago.


Dutch cities have been secretly probing mosques since 2013

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talked to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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