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China is putting police officers in internet company offices

Beijing moves to tighten web controls following controversial cybersecurity proposals

The Chinese government will begin embedding police officers at some internet companies, Financial Times reports, in an effort to better enforce its notoriously strict web censorship policies. Chen Zhimin, China's deputy minister of public security, tells the Times that the "network security offices" will be installed at major Chinese web companies like Tencent and Alibaba, "in order to be able to find out about illegal internet activity more quickly." The plan was announced Tuesday at a national working conference in Beijing, though details on its scope and implementation remain unclear.

The move follows a draft cybersecurity law, presented earlier this year, which calls for tighter controls over internet companies. The law would require web companies to store user data in China, curtail online anonymity, and share data with the government. The draft has drawn swift criticism from civil liberties groups, who say it will only further restrict speech in an already stifled country.

"A clear and chilling message."

"While the Chinese government is known for its obsession with Internet control, the draft law sends a clear and chilling message of intent to further control online expression," Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement this week. "The law will effectively put China’s internet companies, and hundreds of millions of Internet users, under greater state control."

Chinese internet companies already deploy armies of online censors to swiftly remove content deemed objectionable, including rumors and anti-government messages. Beijing's crackdown on online speech has intensified since President Xi Jinping assumed office in 2013. Qiao Mu, a professor at the Beijing Foreign Studies University, tells Financial Times. that placing police officers directly inside internet offices could signal the latest escalation in its campaign.

"The goal seems to be to a create an intimidating atmosphere inside the companies themselves," Qiao says.