The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) (Chinese: 国家互联网信息办公室), also known as the Office of the Central Leading Group for Cyberspace Affairs, is the central Internet censorship, oversight, and control agency for the People's Republic of China.
The CAC was founded in 2014. As of June 29, 2016, the agency is headed by Xu Lin, who had been deputy to former head Lu Wei. The CAC answers to the Central Leading Group for Internet Security and Informatization (中央网络安全和信息化领导小组), which is headed by Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping. The deputy heads are Li Keqiang, the Premier of the State Council of China, and Liu Yunshan, the head of the Propaganda and Ideology Leading Group.
The CAC, based on the same bureaucracy as the Communist Party's Office for Foreign Propaganda, is involved in the formulation and implementation of policy on a variety of issues related to the Chinese Internet.
The CAC includes the following departments: an Internet Security Emergency Command Center, an Agency Service Center, and an Illegal and Unhealthy Information Reporting Center.
The efforts of the CAC have been linked with a broader push by the administration of Party General Secretary Xi Jinping, characterized by Xiao Qiang, head of China Digital Times, as a "ferocious assault on civil society." This has included forced confessions of television journalists, military parades, harsh media censorship and more.
The CAC also maintains some censorship functions, including issuing directives to media companies in China. After a campaign to arrest almost 200 lawyers and activists in China, the CAC published a directive saying that "All websites must, without exception, use as the standard official and authoritative media reports with regards to the detention of trouble-making lawyers by the relevant departments."
Lu Wei, the head of the CAC, was previously the head of the Beijing Propaganda Department, and oversaw the Internet Management Office, a "massive human effort" that involved over 60,000 Internet propaganda workers and two million others employed off-payroll. It was this experience that assisted General Secretary Xi Jinping in selecting Lu was the head of the newly formed Internet regulator, the CAC.
Among the areas the CAC regulates include usernames on the Chinese Internet, the appropriateness of remarks made online, virtual private networks, the content of Internet portals, and much more. The CAC was behind a warning given to the major web service Sina Weibo, which was threatened with closure unless it "improved censorship." The CAC said that Sina had failed to properly police the comments made by users on the Internet.
According to a draft Cyber Security Law, made public on July 6, 2015, the CAC works with other Chinese regulators to formulate a catalog of "key network equipment" and "specialized network security products" for certification. The CAC is also involved in reviewing the procurement of network products or services for national security considerations. Data stored outside of China by Chinese companies is also required to undergo CAC approval.
According to Xinhua, the official state newsagency, the CAC was responsible for issuing a "voluntary pledge" that was intended to be adhered to by the major Internet portals in China about the comments that would or would not be allowed to be made on their website. Among the categories of comments that were banned, included were those that "harmed national security," "harmed the nation's honor or interest," "damaged the nation's religious policies," "spread rumors, disturbed public order," and "intentionally using character combinations to avoid censorship."
The CAC was also responsible for chasing down Internet users and web sites that published "rumors" following an explosion in the port city of Tianjin. Such rumors included claims that blasts killed 1,000 people, or that there was looting, or leadership ructions as a result of the blast.
Internet users in China have generally regarded the CAC with anger, given its central role in regulating and blocking the content they have access to. In January 2015, the CAC debuted a song that The New York Times called "a throwback to revolutionary songs glorifying the state." The song included the lines: “Unified with the strength of all living things, Devoted to turning the global village into the most beautiful scene” and “An Internet power: Tell the world that the Chinese Dream is uplifting China.”
The CAC has also been accused of assisting in cyber attacks against visitors to Chinese website. The anti-censorship group GreatFire.org provided data and reports showing man-in-the-middle attacks against major foreign web services, including iCloud, Yahoo, Microsoft, and Google. The attack would have required the ability to "tap into the backbone of the Chinese Internet."
Gibson Research Corporation attributed some of the attacks against GitHub to the CAC's operations. In the attack, ads hosted on Baidu were able to leverage computers visiting from outside China, redirecting their traffic to overload the servers of GitHub. "The tampering takes places someplace between when the traffic enters China and when it hits Baidu’s servers," Gibson wrote. "This is consistent with previous malicious actions and points to the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) being directly involved..."
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