Canadian activist group Citizen Lab, with the help of an article in the New York Times, has blown the lid off the newest Chinese censorship scandal: the government of China is eavesdropping on, and in some cases intercepting, text messages sent via the Skype network.
Users in China access Skype through Tom-Skype, which is a partnership between eBay-owned Skype, and Chinese ISP TOM Online.
It’s been known for some time that the Chinese Golden Shield Project (a nice euphemism for “muzzle our citizens”, and sometimes called The Great Firewall of China), owned by China’s Ministry of Public Security , employs thousands of ‘Internet policeman’ who sift through Internet traffic looking for forbidden topics and words.
But until now, it was believed – based in large part on assurances from Skype executives – that other than some somewhat standard Chinese filtering mechanisms, the Skype messages were secure.
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Not so, says Citizen Lab. Citizen Lab has discovered a cluster of 8 computers which are monitoring the Skype-TOM messages, and which are harbouring more than a million such messages which have been censored for containing words and phrases like “Falun Gong”, democracy, earthquake, and milk powder.
According to Citizen Lab, the Chinese computers also retain the personal information of senders of the messages, and record chats that TOM-Skype users have with Skype users outside of China.
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