Wed, Dec 07, 2005 - Page 1 News List

Beijing boosts surveillance of SMS

`UNHEALTHY ELEMENTS' The Ministry of Public Security said it is shutting down illegal cellphone accounts as part of a campaign to prevent bank scams and other crimes

BLOOMBERG

China's government said it stepped up monitoring of short message services (SMS) sent between the nation's 383 million mobile-phone users to prevent fraudsters, pornographers and other "unhealthy elements" from exploiting the technology.

Police found 107,000 illegal short messages and shut down 9,700 cellphone accounts since the start of last month, Wu Heping (武和平), vice minister of the Ministry of Public Security, said at a briefing in Beijing yesterday that was broadcast on the Internet.

Banking scams accounted for 44 percent of the messages, followed by advertisements for illegal lotteries, prostitution or pornography services, and illicit requests for financial information, Wu said.

The remaining 26 percent related to "other crimes," the ministry said, without elaborating.

The public security ministry has upgraded its filtering system over the past few years to catch criminals, Wu said.

CONTROL

China's government also is using the technology to control the spread of news and information, according to Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based group that campaigns for press freedom.

Mobile-phone subscribers in China sent 217.76 billion text messages last year, a 58.8 percent increase from 2003, according to the US-based Mobile Data Association.

China is the world's biggest mobile-phone market by users.

The nation has 2,800 surveillance centers to monitor text message traffic, Reporters Without Borders said in a report in July last year that cited a press release by Venus Info Tech.

Beijing-based Venus Info Tech received permission from the public security ministry to market a surveillance system that allows authorities to filter messages for "false political rumors" and "reactionary remarks," the Paris-based group said.

The system generates automatic alerts to police and saves information about suspect texts for 60 days, it said.

INTERNET CRACKDOWN

The crackdown on short-message services mirrors a tightening of rules on Internet content announced in September.

Under the rules, Web sites that post materials that "threaten national security" can be fined, the official Xinhua news agency said.

"We are enforcing the national short messaging law and we are taking our jobs seriously," Wu said at yesterday's briefing.

Of the 107,000 illegal messages tracked since last month, 14,000, or 13 percent, were sent by illegal lotteries, while 7,062, or 7 percent, were prostitution or pornography-related, and 11,000, or 10 percent, came from groups soliciting fake receipts or other financial information, according to the ministry.

So far, officials have frozen 108 bank accounts belonging to criminal organizations in cooperation with the China Banking Regulatory Commission, Wu said.

The ministry didn't disclose the number of people arrested.

In the first nine months of this year, China Mobile (Hong Kong) Ltd's 196.7 million subscribers sent 178.5 billion short messages, up from 109.8 billion a year ago.

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