The Real Functions of China's 'Golden Shield' Project

By Shi Shan, Radio Free Asia
April 13, 2006 12:00 am Last Updated: April 13, 2006 12:00 am

China's Ministry of Public Security claimed that the Golden shield (Jin Dun) project, a computer network system administered by the nation's Public Security Services, is only a digital system for information management within the Public Security Ministry, which is separate from the Internet.

In a press conference on Wednesday, the ministry introduced the project's current status. According to a report by the Chinese communist regime's semi-official news, China News Service, a technical officer from the Ministry of Public Security revealed that the central treasury has allocated 816 million yuan (approximately US$100 million) for the first phase of the project, to be used for the centralized construction of China's eight major data banks.

At present the public security services across the nation have 640,000 network computers, which are grouped into 23 operating systems covering information on population, crimes, vehicle registration, and border control, etc.

According to the report, 20 percent of the total crimes solved were aided by the use of network information, which shows a significant increase in the efficiency of the police force. An official from the Ministry of Public Security said that the Golden Shield is an internal network within the public security services that is totally separate from the Internet that ordinary citizens use.

Mr. Li Hongkuan, who lives in the U.S. and once owned an electronic journal, said that computer systems similar to the Golden Shield exist in various countries, and that it was obvious that the information disclosed by Beijing's official source deliberately ignored some of the project's other functions.

Mr. Li said, “As a matter of fact, a very important part of the Golden Shield project goes beyond the internal network; it's primarily used to control the public network. All nations are developing their own networks and information systems, but China puts special emphasis on controlling the public network. When it claimed, in the report, that the project is not connected to the public network, it probably referred to only one part of the project. But in fact, a major task of the Golden Shield is to monitor and control the Internet.”

Mr. He, technical officer of the U.S. based specializing in breaking network blockades, said that the China News Service only reported on part of the functions of the Golden Shield project, and the funds invested in the system for blocking the Internet, are significantly larger than disclosed.

Mr. He said, “The function not mentioned is actually more important to them. China started its Internet development about 10 years ago, with its first terminal set up by the Institute of High Energy Physics Chinese Academy of Sciences. But not long after that, the project was passed over to the Telecommunications corporation and the police started getting involved.

Since then they've bought a lot of equipment from companies like Cisco Systems. Actually this kind of equipment cannot be purchased by any country, government, or agency. They spent a lot of money on them since these were mostly elaborate firewalls; and they also hired a lot of people to watch them and monitor their operations.”

Mr. He further explained that China's Golden Shield Project is only the technical part used to block the Internet. China is more aggressive in taking legal and administrative measures to monitor and censor the networks used by the public; and the financial and material resources put into them are just phenomenal.

Mr. He added, “As we see it now, this project is more than a technical tactic; it employs other means as well, such as issuing policies and regulations of various sorts and putting in place mechanisms through which the Internet cafes may report to the police. There are so-called self-disciplinary rules for game manufacturers, cell phone short message servers, and website administrators; there are provisions made specifically for them. Foreign companies, such as Microsoft, Yahoo, etc. have been warned that certain contents are not to appear on their websites.”

An official from the Ministry of Public Security of China said that the Golden Shield project is one of several projects aimed at turning China into an information society, and its objective is to facilitate the transmission and sharing of data among police so as to enhance the capability of the police to solve cases; it's fully identical to that used in the field of industrial information. But Mr. He, of the, was critical of China's official claim. He said, “By using state-of-art information technology the Chinese police are blocking and monitoring the types of information that people receive, and this completely runs counter to the general trend of freedom of information in the modern world.”

(Compiled based on a recorded transcript from Radio Free Asia)