Monday, April 21, 2014

More Details Emerge of Internet Police Involved in Nationwide Money-For-Censorship Scheme

As noted previously in this blog, during the last year China’s state run media has exposed at least two cases involving police officers in Beijing and Hainan who were entrusted with censoring online content, and who abused their authority by taking bribes to order web masters to delete information that did not violate any of China’s laws, regulations, or policies. See:
On April 17, 2014, the state sponsored Southern Weekend published an article entitled “Internet Police Bribe Internet Police: Deleting Posts for Their Bosses” (网警贿赂网警:替领导删帖). That article provided additional details on the Hainan case mentioned above. Specifically:
  • The full name of the Hainan police officer at the center of the scandal: Wei Yining (魏一宁).
  • The total number of Internet police who paid Officer Wei bribes to delete posts: 11.
  • Locations whose Internet police participated in the money-for-censorship scheme: Hunan, Liaoning, Qingdao, Nanjing.
  • Wei Yining Trial: Wei was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. The court judgment (available here) was issued in December 13, but was only being reported on this month.
Some excerpts from the article:
Gao Qiang, a senior administrator at Kaidi Net, told this reporter that, usually the Haikou Internet police use QQ to issue deletion orders. After Gao Qiang received an order from the Internet police's common account, all he would see is an order, and there was simply no way to verify whether the order had been subject to any  legal process.

"Sometimes we would receive an order, and we would have some doubts and would follow up. The issuing Internet police officer would only say that its an order sent down from the Public Security Bureau." After a while, even though there were suspicions that certain posts should not be subjected to an order, Gao Qiang and his coworkers just got used to following orders.

Similarly, at Tianya, as soon as they received an order, the "Legal Enforcement Bureau" would chose to enforce the Internet police's order by deleting posts or shutting an account.

Orders were authoritative and could not be questioned. Even if an administrator felt doubts, they frequently did not dare question the issuer as to whether the order had been reviewed and approved by leadership, or if it was personally issued by the Internet police officer.

Anyone who had authority over the Internet could send down an order to delete a post. With respect to posts about the government that were negative, the most common demand was "Don't let them garner too much attention." "Currently the orders that come down are not in any written document, they are all issued as messages in a QQ group." Gao Qiang believes that this was a major reason why Wei Yining could use his public office for his personal gain.

Post deletion orders were not always issued in so undisciplined a manner. Many years ago, there was standard government document for orders issued to web sites. Tang Tao, a director of an Internet oversight team for a municipal government in Hunan, told a reporter with the Southern Weekend that, several years ago, when it came to post deletion, there were strict  standards and procedures regarding what kind of posts could be deleted and how they could be deleted. They mainly deleted certain posts that were unhealthy, threatening social stability, and defaming third parties.

As Tang Tao explained it, in order to delete a post, it was necessary to first submit a report to a supervisor and to the senior Internet oversight department. Afterwards, an Internet Information Registration Form was filled in, and after specifying evidence and other measures, they would write up an Internet Sensitive Information Handling Circular, and an official would sign and chop it. After these procedures were completed Web sites would be notified by phone and fax.

Based on Tang Tao's understanding, there are many kind of orders that Internet police can issue, including deletion, filtering, temporary suspension, and shutting down. Post deletion order are extremely sensitive: they must be implemented immediately.

Southern Weekend has learned from reviewing a written order from the Internet Illegal Information Inspection Management System of the Binhai New District Public Security Bureau in Tianjin that, based on the system's technical specifications, within one minute after illegal information is detected, the system will issue an SMS alert to webmasters under their jurisdiction. The system will automatically perform a check within one minute after the website has deleted the illegal information. The system also requires that Level 1 Illegal Information must be detected within 10 minutes and dealt with within 20 minutes; Level 2 Illegal Information must be detected within 20 minutes and dealt with within 40 minutes; and Level 3 Illegal Information must be detected within 60 minutes and dealt with within 20 hours.

Long-time Tianya editor Liu Liu told this reporter that, Tianya's "Law Enforcement Bureau" has 50 people. About six people handle government orders, and they work on three shifts around the clock for orders that come down from the Internet police on the internal RTX system. "The time limit for clear instructions to delete posts, for example, saying XX post must be deleted immediately, is ten minutes." Liu said that, if they do not delete a post in that time, they will be called out by name in the online group by the Internet police who issued the order: "What do you think you're doing being so slow."
. . . .
The defense lawyer claimed that, while Wei Yining received financial gain from others, nevertheless what got deleted were posts that had a severely negative impact on the government, and there was no attempt to seek any other benefits for third parties, so his actions did not constitute accepting bribes.

The Internet oversight team supervisor Tang Tao said that many people would use that kind of relationship to find a local Internet police officer in the hope getting in touch with an Internet police officer that could get posts deleted. "For example, an official in a local agency sees some negative talk about himself or his agency in a Tianya forum, so he will think to use this method to get the post deleted."

Tang Tao believes that these Internet police officers were only working on behalf of their superiors, and in some cases they might relate to classified matters, and therefore the public cannot participate in oversight of Internet police work. This lead to Internet police like Wei Yining using their public office for personal gain, using the law enforcement authority they held to provide a natural screen for their rent-seeking and money-making.

The judge in the case specifically noted in the court judgment: "Not every post that has a negative impact on the government is illegal or infringing. In accordance with the spirit of the law and requirements of government administration in accordance with the law, the government also has the obligation to accept public oversight. By receiving financial gain for deleting posts without first having undergone review and approval, he in fact weakened the effectiveness of public oversight, and in reality sought to gain benefit from the organizations and agencies at whom the posts were targeted."

凯迪网的高层管理人员高强告诉记者,海口网警一般是通过QQ给他们下达删帖指令的。高强接到网警从公共账号发来的指令后,只能看到一条命令,根本无法查证其是否经过了法定程序。

“有时候我们收到指令,觉得有疑问就去追问,发布指令的网警就说是公安部下达的指令。”时间久了,即使怀疑某个帖子不应该有指令,高强和他的同事也只能习惯性地强制执行。

同样,在天涯社区,只要接收到处置指令,“执法部门”就会根据网警的处置指令选择对用户进行删帖、封号等处罚。

指令具有权威性,不容置疑。即便管理员觉得怀疑,也往往不敢去问对方这个指令是领导审批过的,还是网警个人发放的。

只要是有权管网络的,都可以给高强们下达删帖等处置指令,针对政府一些负面的帖子一般要求“不要炒作”。“现在下达指令并没有书面的文件,都是以QQ群里面的留言的方式下发的。”高强认为,这正是魏一宁可以假公济私删帖的重要原因。

删帖指令的下达并非一直如此随意。多年前,向网站下发处置指令曾经有标准的公文。河南某地级市的网监队长唐涛告诉南方周末记者,前几年,针对删帖而言,删除什么样的帖子,怎么删除,有着严谨的标准和流程。他们主要删除一些不健康的、威胁社会稳定和诽谤侮辱他人的帖子。

唐涛介绍,要删除一个帖子,必须先向主管领导报告并向上级网监部门报告;然后填写互联网信息登记表;在固定证据等措施后,填写互联网敏感信息处理通报书,领导签字并加盖公章。走完这些流程后方可电话或传真通知网站。

按照唐涛的了解,网警的处置指令一般有删除、过滤、临时断网、封堵等多种。删帖指令非常严厉:需要马上执行。

南方周末记者从天津市滨海新区公安局互联网违法信息巡查处置系统项目需求书中看到,根据该系统的技术指标,违法信息发现后,系统应在1分钟之内向所属网站负责人发送报警短信,网站删除违法信息后,系统自动校核时间也限定在一分钟内。该系统还要求实现一类违法信息10分钟发现,20分钟处置;二类违法信息20分钟发现,40分钟处置;三类违法信息60分钟发现,20小时处置。

天涯资深值班编辑刘柳告诉记者,天涯的“执法部门”一共有50个人。接收政府指令的约有6人,他们采用三班倒的工作方式,24小时在RTX内部等待网警下达指令。“明确说明要删帖的,比如说××帖子必须要删掉,限时一般最多是十分钟。”刘柳说,如果没有按时删掉,发布指令的网警就会在群里点名批评,“你们怎么这么拖沓,想干什么”。
. . . .
辩护律师称,魏一宁虽然收受他人财物,但所删的都是对政府有严重负面影响的帖子,并未为他人谋取利益,其行为不构成受贿罪。

上述网监队长唐涛说,很多人会经过各种关系,找到本地的网警,希望联系能够删帖的网警删帖。“比如本地的某单位的领导在天涯论坛上,看到网上对其本人或者本单位负面的言论后,就会想方设法删帖。”

唐涛认为,这些网警仅仅是对上级负责,有的涉及机密,因此公众也无法参与到监督网警的工作中来,这就为像魏一宁这样假公济私的网警,将手中的执法权寻租和变现提供了天然的屏障。

本案一审法官在判决书中特别写道:“并非所有对政府具有负面影响的帖子均系违法或侵权的,根据法律精神和依法行政的要求,政府亦有接受社会监督的义务。魏一宁接受财物未经审批删除帖子的行为,事实上会削弱社会监督的效果,实际上是为帖子所指向的机关或单位谋取利益。”
The article was originally available here - http://www.infzm.com/content/99895 - but as these screenshots show, it was deleted within hours.

As this screenshot shows, no link to article appears on the Southern Weekend web site.
 On April 18, the state sponsored Beijing News published an editorial by Zeng Ying (曾颖) about the Southern Weekend article entitled “How Can We Restrain Local Governments That Illegal Delete Posts” (地方政府非法删帖的需求怎么遏制). Some excerpts:
The [Southern Weekend] report noted that, everything that got deleted was "essentially negative information about government agencies that local governments did not want to be seen." So it appears that certain local officials' understanding of online public sentiment remains stuck in the archaic times of the broadcast age, believing deleting posts and silencing voices is the most effective way to block the spread of information they don't like. When they run into an incident in their jurisdiction, whether its justified or not, their first reaction is to make it disappear.
. . . .
There is a lack of standards in way the Internet is governed today, and this is the "objective reason" for the flood of illegal post deletion demands from officials. As for the employees who participate in and carry out post deletions, because there are no operating rules that clearly and concretely delineate whether one's own behavior is "legal" or "illegal," or where there are rules they leave far too much room unrestrained discretion, the result is a lack of guidance to the point of sinking into an abyss of criminality. There are those among them, including defense attorneys, who self-righteously believe that what they are doing is a "public service." And for those who do not see the law but only the so-called public service of their superiors, the main issue is relevant laws and regulations are not comprehensive, and the conflict between following orders and obeying they law is creating a disastrous  outcome.

报道里提到,删除的“基本上都是当地领导不希望被看到的有关政府部门的负面信息”。看来,一些地方官员对于网络舆情的认知,还停留在古老的传播时代,认为删帖和静声是阻止自己不喜欢的信息传播的最有效手段,遇到治下出事,无论有理无理,第一个反应便是让它消失。
. . . .
当前网络管理方式的不规范,则是官方非法删帖需求泛滥的“客观原因”。对参与执行删帖的人员来说,由于缺乏一个明确而可掌控的界定自己行为是在“法”与“非法”运行的规则;或有规则,但可自由裁量的空间太大了,而导致行为失范甚至堕入到犯罪深渊当中去,他们中的某些人,包括辩护律师,都不无委屈地认为他们所做的,是“公事”。而这种眼中没有法律,只有上级的所谓公事观,很大程度上是因为相关法律的规定不周全,守纪与守法出现对立造成的恶果。

Translation: Huang Xuqin and Wang Jianbing Inciting Subversion Indictment

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