Although the Olympics are meant to be a time of celebration and athletic competition, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) produced evidence today that Chinese authorities are planning to spy on visitors’ internet usage.
Documents obtained by CNA from Sen. Brownback’s office, show that the Chinese Public Security Bureau (PSB) is requiring hotels to install a software program called the “Security Management System” and a hardware device, both of which will allow the PSB to monitor the use of the internet by their patrons.
Hotels and other companies who charge for internet usage were told to have the software component installed by April 28, 2008 and to have the hardware functional by July 31, 2008 or face fines from the PSB.
Those who refuse to comply with the orders will be fined $730 for individuals and $2,200 for a company. Serious violations, the notice mandating the installations warns, will result in a suspension of access to the internet or the cancellation of the company’s business license.
Several international hotel chains have confirmed to Sen. Brownback that they have received the order from the PSB but have requested anonymity because they fear retaliation by the government.
Brownback explained that, “in order to protect their safety, and in return for their courage in coming forward, I cannot divulge their identities. These hotels are justifiably outraged. On the other hand, these hotel chains have invested millions of dollars in their Chinese properties, and while they wish to find a way to reverse this order, if they are specifically identified, they could face severe retaliation by the Communist government."
One notice posted by a hotel chain reads:
“We are pleased to offer access to high speed Internet service from this hotel. However, before you choose to use this Internet service, we wish to advise you that your communications and website activity are not private. All of your activity using this service such as sending emails and accessing websites is required by local law enforcement authorities to be accessible to them and a system is in place to provide that access.”
“If you have any questions, please speak with the hotel General Manager. We appreciate your business and understanding.”
Sen. Brownback denounced the Chinese spy tactics at a press conference in Washington DC today.
"I am very disappointed that the Chinese government will not follow through on its promise to the International Olympic Committee to maintain an environment free of government censorship during the Games," said Brownback. "The Chinese government has put in place a system to spy on and gather information about every guest at hotels where Olympic visitors are staying. This means journalists, athletes' families and other visitors will be subjected to invasive intelligence gathering by the Chinese Public Security Bureau."
The senator also noted that, “Prior to being chosen to host the Olympic Games, China pledged to provide open access to information, and to allow journalists to write freely, for at least the duration of the Games. However, in advance of the Olympics, foreign-owned hotels in China were ordered to install monitoring equipment on their network which will allow the Chinese Public Security Bureau to monitor the electronic information processed by thousands of international visitors staying in these hotels.”
The Chinese government has also faced criticism in recent days for its poor handling of journalists during the final sale of tickets to Olympic events. During the incident last Friday, reporters from Hong Kong Cable TV were roughed up by Beijing police and a South China Morning Post newspaper photographer was hit, arrested and detained after taking pictures during the scramble for tickets.