Tuesday, 26 February 2013

BBC blocked in China just days after reporting on Chinese hackers

The British Broadcasting Corporation may have discovered a new “red line” for the Chinese government: don’t bring reporters near the Shanghai complex where China’s suspected military hacking team is thought to be located.

The BBC says its “World Service” broadcast is being jammed inside China, preventing people there from hearing the program. The network said in a statement, “The jamming of shortwave transmissions is being timed to cause maximum disruption to BBC World Service English broadcasts in China.”It’s hard to pinpoint the rationale behind the blocking, and not just because the Chinese government does not of course claim responsibility. But we have a pretty good hint in this story from last week, when members of the Chinese military detained some BBC journalists who were trying to film outside the Shanghai complex where China’s elite military hacker team is thought to work. The BBC journalists were held inside the building until they surrendered their footage, which sounds as it were mostly just banal exterior shots.

The incident, and now China’s possibly related move to block BBC broadcasts, are a sign of how serious the Chinese government is about keeping prying eyes away from the suspected military hackers.

The Shanghai-based Unit 61398 of the People’s Liberation Army, as it is named in a report by the cyber security company Mandiant, is thought to be behind Chinese cyber-attacks on just about every federal agency and major institution in Washington.

China doesn’t declare its “red lines” for foreign reporters openly, typically setting them by precedent. It’s not hard to find Western reporters who wrote something a little too critical or ventured somewhere a little too sensitive and suddenly found themselves unable to renew their visas. The New York Times and Businessweek Bloomberg seemed to find a Chinese government red line last year when their Web sites were both blocked in the country, presumably for their groundbreaking reporting on corruption in the top levels of the Chinese Communist Party.

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