China to set up 'security offices' inside major Internet companies

Alibaba Group's headquarters in Hangzhou in 2012.
Alibaba Group's headquarters in Hangzhou in 2012. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

BEIJING (Bloomberg) - China plans to set up "network security offices" staffed by police officers inside major Internet companies, a move to strengthen the government's grip on the world's largest population of Web users.

The Ministry of Public Security will add police officers at "critical" companies to help boost defences against cyber- attacks and fight criminal activity, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported, citing a ministry conference.

The initiative is also intended to safeguard users' information, Xinhua said without naming specific companies or websites. The country's largest Internet companies include Alibaba Group Holding, Tencent Holdings and Baidu Inc.

China's government has long controlled Web content, blocking pornography, dissident websites and any other information it deems a threat to the ruling Communist Party. It is planning to build a national cyber safety net as part of a sweeping security Bill being considered by the top lawmaking body.

The draft Bill, now seeking public feedback, will enable national and local governments to cut Internet access in cases of major public-security incidents, according to a statement on its website.

For example, China blocked some instant-messaging services in the western province of Xinjiang last year because of social unrest, Caixin reported, citing a government notice.

"It's probably part of this cybersecurity paranoia that seems to be gripping China," said Mr Doug Young, author of The Party Line: How the Media Dictates Public Opinion in Modern China.

"Having the watchdog sit in their office would be a constant reminder that the government is watching them."

Representatives for Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu did not immediately respond to e-mails and phone calls seeking comment.

President Xi Jinping designated "representatives of new media" as a key focus for the ruling party's outreach in May, according to Xinhua.

China had 668 million Internet users at the end of June, according to a government research institute.

Technology leaders should "demonstrate positive energy in purifying cyberspace", Mr Xi said at the end of the party's first national United Front conference, Xinhua reported. He called for regular contact with representatives of new media to build support for the party's agenda.