Great Firewall: Chinese Censors Of Internet Face ‘Hacktivists’ in U.S.

The Wall Street Journal
Great Firewall: Chinese Censors Of Internet Face ‘Hacktivists’ in U.S.

By Geoffrey A. Fowler
13 February 2006

At the end of last year 15 Internet writers were in jail in China, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York group. China also has gotten some U.S. Internet companies to limit the search results they provide or the discussions they host on their Chinese services. A tiny firm Mr. Xia set up to provide and maintain Freegate had to lobby computer-security companies such as Symantec Corp., of Cupertino, Calif., not to treat it as a virus.

Freegate has advantages over some of its peers. As the product of ethnically Chinese programmers, it uses the language and fits the culture. It is a simple and small program, whose file size of just 137 kilobytes helps make it easy to store in an email program and pass along on a portable memory drive.

Mr. Xia says he gets a mountain of feedback. He convinced Symantec not to treat Freegate as a virus. “The users are not technical. They just say, `It doesn’t work!’ and we have to ask them a lot of questions” to resolve problems, Mr. Xia says. He politely declines the help of volunteers inside China, fearing that they might be government spies or that they would be punished if discovered.