China: The debut of mobile SMS censorship

2010-01-25 - damon

The campaign against the proliferation of pornography on mobile devices as outlined by the MIIT official document has entered the second stage in early 2010. According toXinhuanet's report in mid Jan, Mobile China Shanghai branch will start suspending a mobile phone's SMS function if they find the number distribute “vulgar”, “pornographic” and other illegal content. Mobile China Beijing also claimed that they would suspend a mobile phone's SMS function if they find a mobile number distributing "vulgar" and illegal content in a massive scale. Apart from Mobile China, the second largest telecom China Unicom also set up similar filter system.

The monitoring of mobile SMS has not only invaded citizen' private life but also set up an infrastructure to crack down social mobilization via mobile phone. In the past few years, mobile phone SMS has played a significant role in a number of mass incidents, such as the Xiamen anti-PX demonstration in 2007, the anti-maglev train strolls in Shanghai in 2009 and the recent protest against the Trash-to-energy incineration plant in Panyu.

Communication rights activist Chen Shuwai told the epochtimes that the monitoring of mobile phone has presumed all mobile users as potential criminals. It intervenes and criminalizes mutually acceptable peer to peer relation. Moreover, as the tele-companies do not belong to law enforcement unit, they have no rights to read their clients' SMS communications. Beijing human rights lawyer Wang Yajun has issued a legal complaint to MIIT against China Unicom's SMS monitoring policy.

According to Apple Daily News' report (via epochtimes) more than 70,000 mobile phones' SMS function has been suspended. Shanghai China mobile explained that, once the companies' filter had detected vulgar and obscene words it would suspend the function temporarily. The company will look into the case, resume the service if they find the message contains no bad intents and handover to the authority if the message contains illegal content.

Prominent blogger Han Han tested the system by sending out messages with sex implications to his friend and found out that the definition of "pornographic" is highly arbitrary. Another user Mr. She reported that his mobile's SMS function has been suspended because he sent out 200 greeting messages to his friend within one hour. The mobile companies explained that the policy is to prevent spam messages. (via However, such mechanism can be utilize to crack down SMS social mobilization.

Under the definition of China Internet Illegal Information Reporting Center (CIIRC), the definition of "vulgar", "pornographic" and illegal contents covers the following 13 areas (via globalvoices advocacy):

1. Content that expose and depict sexual organs;
2. Contents that imply sexual behavior or that seduce or insult a person
3. Content with sexual implication and describe sexual intercourses
4. Nudity
5. Nipple slips or up-skirt kind of content
6. Vulgar and sexy subject line for attracting views
7. Censored or banned words, video and movie clips
8. Information related with one night stand, partner shifting and SM behavior
9. Pornographic animation
10. Violent and insulting content
11. Ads on illegal drug and sexual transmitted disease treatment
12. Contents that invade other's privacy
13. Links, photos and texts that recommend vulgar and pornographic websites.