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Chinese Netizens See Human Rights Violations in Child Protection Bill

China released the draft of cyber security law on 6 July. Remix image.

China released the draft of cyber security law on 6 July. Image mixed by Oiwan Lam.

China's Cyberspace Administration is launching new draft regulations that would require hardware companies to pre-install surveillance software on communication devices and legalize specific approaches to treating internet addiction, all in the interest of protecting children.

The regulations encourage industrial and social sectors to become more engaged in issues of child protection online, through content warning and take down systems, pre-installed censorship and surveillance softwares, legalization and promotion of Internet addiction treatments, and age verification systems for online games. Published on September 30, the Regulations on the Protection of Minors Online are open for public comment until October 31 2016.

Many are worried that the surveillance capabilities built into hardware or pre-installed on communication devices could be used for other purposes. According to Articles 11 and 12 of the regulations:

    第十条 国家鼓励并支持研发、生产和推广未成年人上网保护软件。
国家网信部门会同国务院工信等部门组织制定未成年人上网保护软件研发、生产和推广的政策并组织实施。

第十一条 学校、图书馆、文化馆、青少年宫等公益性场所为未成年人提供上网设施的,应当安装未成年人上网保护软件,避免未成年人接触违法信息和不适宜未成年人接触的信息。
第十二条 智能终端产品制造商在产品出厂时、智能终端产品进口商在产品销售前应当在产品上安装未成年人上网保护软件,或者为安装未成年人上网保护软件提供便利并采用显著方式告知用户安装渠道和方法。

Article 11. All internet facilities in schools, libraries, cultural and youth centers should install softwares to protect minors and prevent them from accessing illegal and inappropriate information.

Article 12. Manufacturers and Importers of all computing devices should make sure that the products be pre-installed with minor protection softwares or have clear instructions on how to install minor protection softwares before the products are sold on the market.

A blogger based in Guangzhou, who chose to have their identity withheld, expressed concern that after the legislation, all cell phones and computers made in China would be pre-installed with surveillance technology that could not be uninstalled.

This surveillance software could be used to spy on all activities, online or offline, of the device's owner. They could also be used to disrupt the functioning of circumvention tools. The blogger also pointed out that in the past, surveillance technologies found on Chinese-made hardware have had technical backdoors, leaving them vulnerable to malicious hackers.

Is “Green Dam Youth Escort” Back?

In 2009, the Chinese government had attempted to force both domestic and international PC makers to pre-install a filtering software known as “Green Dam-Youth Escort,” which blocked banned websites by linking between each user's device and an online database of banned sites. As Chinese netizens kept finding the flaws in the software, the plan was halted.

The current regulations do not specify which types of software would be installed in all communication devices, to be able to effectively prevent the minors from accessing “illegal and inappropriate information” as defined by Chinese law. But they do say that all software eventually would be linked to a central database controlled by the government or party authorities. Article 10 clearly states that the Cyber Administration and Ministry of Industry and Information Technology will be responsible for the development, manufacturing and implementation of the software policy. This is why many Chinese netizens exclaimed that “the Green Dam” has returned. All online discussions about this have been removed by Chinese web censors.

Taking on ‘Internet Addiction’

Online conversations about legalizing Internet addiction treatments have been less censored. While the international psychiatric community continues to debate whether Internet addiction is a real problem, the Chinese government appears ready to develop a domestic evaluation system and subject minors to a so-called “conversion” treatment. According to the drafted regulation:

第二十条 教育、卫生计生等部门依据各自职责,组织开展预防未成年人沉迷网络的教育,对未成年人网络成瘾实施干预和矫治。
县级以上人民政府及其教育行政部门应当为中小学校配备专门教师或提高教师专业水平,增强对未成年人沉迷网络的早期识别和干预能力,并可以通过购买服务等方式提供预防和干预未成年人沉迷网络的教育或服务。
国务院卫生计生部门会同有关部门推动出台网络成瘾的本土化预测和诊断测评系统,制定诊断、治疗规范。

Article 20: Education and health departments should organize and implement education programs and medical treatments to prevent minors from falling into Internet addiction and to convert minors who are addicted.

People’s government and education authorities of and above county level should equip primary and secondary schools with teachers specialing in this field or improve teachers’ professional skills to detect and intervene into the problem of internet addiction among minors at an early stage. Schools could also buy services from organizations specializing in prevention and intervention in internet addiction among minors.

The Ministry of Health and Family Planning will work with other authorities to develop a detection and evaluation system on internet addiction and develop a code for the diagnosis and treatment of internet addiction.

In China, some clinical psychologists have become very active in promoting the treatment of Internet addiction. An iconic figure is Yang Yongxin, who has promoted a test to evaluate Internet addiction and using electroshock to cure his patients. In 2006, Yang established the country’s first Internet Addition Treatment Center at the Linyi City Mental Health Hospital in Shandong province.

Since China officially recognized Internet addiction as a clinical disorder in 2008, hundreds of boot camps have been set up to treat the addiction problem. The majority of these camps force to kids to go through very heavy physical exercises. There have been a few reports of children suddenly dying while in these camps. In 2014, a 19-year-old girl was tortured to death during an internet addiction boot-camp organized by her school in Henan province.

Though the legislation can be interpreted as an effort to “standardize” addiction treatment and prevent deaths during treatment, most Chinese netizens anticipate that it will cause more harm to the minors.

On Twitter, @acgtyrant said:

I look into the drafted Regulations on the Protection of Minors Online, it does not stress the duty of medical facilities to safeguard the minors’ personal safety. If the regulations are passed, it is likely that more minors will die [during treatment], this is so ironic.

On Twitter-like Sina Weibo, many netizens are speaking out against the Internet addiction treatment on the comment section of a news thread, with some referring to the electroshock treatments performed by Yang Yongxin:

杨永信要合法了?领导是不是有山东临沂人?

Yang Yongxin will be legalized? I wonder if the leaders are from Shandong Linyi city?

网瘾是关乎青少年精神的问题,但是如此粗暴草率的议案还不知道会引发什么样其他的重大问题。当然了这样一个对杨永信这么久视而不见的政府能做出来什么样的事情我们也不知道,让我们拭目以待。

Internet addiction is a problem concerning minors’ psychological health, but such crude legislation will probably lead to other big problems. We have no idea what a government which has been keeping a blind eye to Yang Yongxin for so long is capable of doing. We'll have to wait and see.

谁起的草案让杨永信电一年我就同意你们谁敢?

If the drafters let Yang Yongxin electroshock them for one year, I would give a pass.

我小学就开始玩电脑,现在才成年了,所谓的网瘾还是没见识过,出去一个月不碰电脑一点事都没有,什么叫瘾?烟瘾算吗?怎么治?电击啊

I have been playing computer games since primary school. Now I am an adult and I don’t have an addiction problem. I can go without access to a computer for a month. How do you define addiction? What about addiction to cigarettes? How do you treat it? Electroshock!

In another news thread, netizens brought up the issue of human rights:

干预、限制人的自由,其法律依据是什么?认定为疾病、需要戒瘾的依据是什么?

What is the legal ground for such restrictions of personal freedom? What is the [medical] ground in defining [Internet addiction] as a disease that requires treatment?

所以说网瘾怎么治,电击?打? 这是想怎么地阿,人权还有吗?为了保护下一代,真的,还是不要生了

How to treat Internet addiction, electroshock? Beating? Do we still have human rights? To protect our next generation, we should not give birth anymore.

最重要的是,你怎么证明你没有网瘾?我可不想以后走路上莫名其妙被以有“网瘾”的名义被拉去进行所谓的“治疗”!

The point is how to prove that you are addicted? I wonder if someday I would be labelled as an Internet addict and forcibly detained for “treatment”.

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