I wrote about this in our “While You Were Reading About Google” post, but I’m pretty sure no one read it because everyone was caught up in the Google story. Perhaps they still all. This story is worth your time, though, because it has implications that potentially rival, if not surpass, those of Google’s potential withdrawal from China.
Here is the entirety of the China Daily’s report:
For those who like to spice things up by sending lewd text messages, be careful, or your short message service may be suspended.
China Mobile, the country’s largest cell-phone operator, is cooperating with the country’s public security administrations to crack down on unlawful texting activities, including smishing, racketeering and sending lewd content, the Nanfang Daily reported Wednesday.
Sending just one unlawful text message will result in suspension of the texting service. To get it back, the person would have to submit a written promise to the public security authority not to send unlawful messages again, said the report.
I’ve had some trouble tracking down the original story (The Nanfang Daily’s search algorithm is a good reminder of how crappy most non-Google search is), but here’s a version of it on Sohu, which says essentially the same thing. While it seems likely that the measures are intended to prevent pornographers from using mobile phones as distribution devices, what’s in both articles doesn’t preclude (and in fact, sort of implies) that consenting adults sending each other explicit text messages are now criminals, and their SMS service can be suspended until they submit a written promise to the local PSB.
According to the Sohu article, SMS will be monitored (and perhaps already are being monitored) using computers, so PSB officers probably aren’t reading your texts unless some word you use sets off a red flag in the system. You can also get in trouble if you are “reported by another user.” Gentlemen, make sure you’re keeping her in flowers and chocolate, or you may find yourself SMS-less in the name of harmonious society.
Actually, though, I see this as potentially quite significant. Most of the government’s censorship tends to center around political issues, which are important, but not necessarily relevant to the daily lives of citizens. Censoring SMS messages for non-political content, though, seems like a rather excessive invasion of privacy. Does the Chinese government not trust its citizens to handle their own sexuality responsibly? Does this indicate that the government is moving toward greater involvement in (and control over) the daily lives and thoughts of anyone brave enough to use any sort of technology?
While I doubt this law is actually going to result in a lot of husband and wife “pornographers” caught “sexting” each other and losing their SMS service, the fact that it could, and that such behavior is defined as illegal, is deeply concerning. Google’s leaving tells us that censorship and information control on the internet is tightening, but we more or less knew that already (OK, yes, it tells us other things too). What does the ban of “sexting” tell us, and how far away are we from a ban on sex itself on the grounds that it’s “spiritual pollution”?