China's "Internet police" open a window on Web censorship

A map of China is seen through a magnifying glass on a computer screen showing binary digits in Singapore in this January 2, 2014 photo illustration. Picture taken January 2, 2014. REUTERS/Edgar Su/Files

BEIJING (Reuters) - The branch of China's police in charge of censoring "illegal and harmful" online information will make its efforts more visible to the public from Monday with the launch of their own social media accounts, the Ministry of Public Security said. The Chinese government aggressively censors the Internet, blocking many sites it deems could challenge the rule of the Communist Party or threaten stability, including popular Western sites like YouTube, Instagram and Facebook, as well as Google Inc's main search engine and Gmail service. Police in some 50 areas, from metropolises like Beijing and Shanghai to more obscure cities like Xuzhou in Jiangsu province, will open accounts on sites including Weibo, China's answer to Twitter, the ministry said late on Sunday. The move is a response to public concern about problems like online gambling and pornography and is aimed at increasing the visibility of the police presence online to "create a harmonious, cultured, clear and bright Internet", it said. "The Internet police are coming out to the front stage from behind the curtains, beginning regular open inspection and law enforcement efforts, raising the visibility of the police online, working hard to increase a joint feeling of public safety for the online community and satisfy the public," the ministry said. The cyber police are working to root out "illegal and harmful information on the Internet, deter and prevent cyber crimes and improper words and deeds online, publish case reports and handle public tip-offs", it said. Problems such as fraud, defamation, gambling, the sale of drugs and guns, and "picking quarrels and provoking trouble" - a charge often used to lock up dissidents - have angered people and created a serious challenge to an orderly Internet, it said. The police would issue warnings to those involved in minor offences and go after more serious cases. "Just like in the real world, law violations in cyberspace will not go unaccounted for," it said. The government has already deleted some 758,000 pieces of "illegal and criminal information" from the Internet and investigated more than 70,000 cyber crime cases since the start of this year, the ministry said. (Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Paul Tait)