Netizens recently noticed a cryptic line of information appearing at the bottom of the official Web site of the London Summer Olympics (www.london2012.com), sparking speculation about possible complicity by the Games’ organizers in Chinese Internet censorship during the event.
At first glance, the last line of information on the site, which appeared in light gray characters, seemed mysterious enough: ICP filing number (京ICP備12028602號). The acronym stands for Internet content provider, a permit issued by the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) allowing China-based Web sites to operate in China.
Under regulations promulgated in September 2000, all Web sites with domain names operating inside China must obtain an ICP license. Foreign companies that, for whatever reason, are unable to acquire an ICP license often enter into agreements with Chinese Internet firms and use the license of the Chinese company.
China-based Internet service providers are required to block a site if it fails to acquire a license within a grace period.
The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) does not have a dedicated site in China.
The organizer told the Taipei Times yesterday that after observing a 30-second-plus load time with Chinese Internet users, it decided to serve the site on a China-based content delivery network (CDN).
To get access to such a network, LOCOG was obliged to apply for an ICP license, it said.
According to the Global Voices Advocacy group, the registered company is Quan Ya Intellectual Property Agency (Beijing) Ltd (權亞知識產權代理(北京)有限公司), a Beijing-based intellectual property rights agent. The individual in charge is Liu Juan (劉娟).
LOCOG maintains that the arrangement has nothing to do with censorship.
“It does not require us to make any commitments around the type or tone of content we offer to any end user nor have we made any such commitments,” a representative from the LOCOG news desk said.
Other international sites operating in China with an ICP license include the New York Times, Google and the National Basketball Association, she said.
However, this also means that the content provided by the official Web site could be manipulated once it is fed in to the local CDN, and live feeds could be delayed.
Under MIIT regulations, all licensed Web sites are forbidden from broadcasting information that is judged to be damaging to the national and public interest; misleading the public; harmful to the morality of socialism; contains names or nouns that have special meanings; and is against laws and regulations.
The Chinese authorities often rely upon delays during live coverage to censor any content it deems inappropriate for a Chinese audience. In the past, delays were used to edit out “damaging scenes” such as anti-China protests or references to democracy, Tibet, Taiwan and other challenges to the authority of the Chinese Communist Party. During the 2008 Beijing Olympics, all broadcasts of sporting events were subjected to a 10-second delay in case Tibetans or other political dissidents staged demonstrations.
Several observers are not convinced and speculate that Beijing set the arrangement as a precondition, threatening that the Web site would be blocked in China if LOCOG failed to comply.
To minimize confusion, the Olympic organizers said they had removed the number from the site.