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Zhou Hanhua :Text Message Breakup
China's seven million mobile phone users may face text message monitoring after the nation's three major telecom operators, China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom, announced in late January the blocking of text messages and possibly other services to subscribers over the transmission of "vulgar or indecent" text messages.

Text messages are to be filtered based on criteria for indecent Internet content established by the State Council last year, according to the Shanghai subsidiary of China Mobile, the world's biggest phone operator by market value. An automatic filtering system will be used to monitor messages through key word detection, and subscribers can also file complaints to the operator. In the ongoing campaign to eradicate Internet pornography, last year nine government departments listed 13 criteria that constituted indecent content on websites, including the description of sexual acts or human sexual organs, or any type of sexual innuendo. As a result of last year's porn crackdown, more than 15,000 pornographic websites have been shut down.

The Beijing branch of China Unicom said text messages would only be blocked on cell phones if the number of indecent messages reached a certain amount or if other users submitted complaints. The government will also review transmitted text messages for indecency.

Operators still disagree over definitions of "vulgar or indecent" and how to handle such cases. This move has aroused public concern among mobile phone users, who may worry that their privacy or freedom of correspondence has been violated.

Zhou Hanhua, vice Chairman of China Information Law Society affiliated to China Law Society, said the so-called "vulgar or indecent" text messages should not be regulated as long as they are not in breach of the China's Regulation on Telecommunications, in which Article 57 provides nine prohibited behaviors through telecommunication networks, including mass distribution of pornography.

Indecent text message monitoring by the Shanghai subsidiary of China Mobile could be a violation of constitutional rights, said Zhou. People send text messages via cell-phone primarily for communication between individuals. Private information exchange is a far cry from the distribution of pornographic material online and should be protected by the laws.

Secondly, telecom operators are not the subject of information transmission but are only platforms and channels for communication. Without authorization from the government, operators have no right to suspend text messages or terminate other services to users, according to Zhou. The crackdown on indecency in text messages differs from other mediums such as websites with pornographic material, launched by the government last year, because operators have independently instituted the text message filter.

The Chinese constitution states that "freedom and privacy of correspondence of citizens of the People's Republic of China are protected by law." Only in cases where criminal investigations need to be facilitated, public security or procuratorial organs are permitted to censor correspondence in accordance with procedures prescribed by law. However, by censoring and filtering messages of mobile users without the government's authorization, those telecom operators are infringing on freedom and privacy, said Zhou Hanhua.

Law enforcement officials are entitled to scan user communication logs for the purpose of conducting crime investigations, Zhou said. Otherwise, operators should not interfere.

Operators also have no means of determining the relationship between the sender and receiver before altering a subscriber's service functions, said Zhou. He also added that messages containing sexual content are usually not written with commonly understood "dirty words" but with innuendo in slang terms, impossible for computers to detect. Rather than curbing the spread of pornography, the monitoring measure taken by telecom operators is expected to inspire a wave of slang terms to replace banned words.

(Translated by GC)

Full Article in Chinese: http://economy.caing.com/2010-01-25/100110670.html