China tightening control over Net access, US says

China is tightening its control over the Internet, according to a U.S. government report

The Chinese government took steps during 2006 to increase its control and monitoring of Internet access by the country's growing Internet population, the U.S. Department of State said in a human-rights report released on Tuesday.

"While the government continued to encourage expanded use of the Internet, it also took steps to monitor its use, control content, restrict information, and punished those who violated regulations," the annual report said. Among the steps implemented by the government are stricter requirements for Web-site registration, greater official control over content, and a wider definition of what constitutes illegal activity online, it said.

The Country Reports on Human Rights Practices are published annually by the State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.

China has nearly 140 million Internet users, according to the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), which tracks Internet usage in the country. The large number of Internet users has not eroded the government's ability to control access to content it deems undesirable, said the State Department, citing reports that the Chinese government employs "tens of thousands of persons" to monitor the Internet.

"The authorities reportedly began to employ more sophisticated technology enabling the selective blocking of specific content rather than entire Web sites. Such technology was also used to block e-mails containing sensitive content," the report said.

The Chinese government has also enlisted the help of domestic and multinational companies to restrict access to information on the Internet. "Chinese search engines such as Baidu.com and the China-based search engines of Yahoo, MSN and Google filtered search results, including those relating to the Voice of America, Radio Free Asia, and human rights," it said.

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