China plans to set up “online police stations” within major websites to scour for inappropriate content, state media revealed Tuesday as the country further tightened its grip on the internet.

People’s Daily reported that the stations would be operated by the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) and would be set up within “important websites” nationwide.

Online police station
File photo of a police station in China. Photo: People’s Daily.

Chen Zimin, vice minister of the MPS, said at a national web security conference in Beijing that the offices will be charged with “inspecting the operation of websites and enforcing laws governing online activities,” according to the Communist Party mouthpiece.

He added that they “should work hard to uncover and prevent various illegal acts online.”

Stepping up surveillance

Until now, managing online discourse has been delegated to internet content providers on a largely ad hoc basis.

Businesses are held liable for all content appearing on their websites, and are expected to prevent the appearance of politically or legally objectionable content – either through automated means or by manually policing their sites. Letting material deemed inappropriate slip through the net could result in reprimands for the company responsible.

China has taken an increasingly aggressive position on internet control since the ascendancy of President Xi Jinping in late 2012.

The Central Cybersecurity and Informatisation Leading Group, predecessor to the Cybersecurity Administration of China, came into being under Xi in 2014 to develop guidelines for the PRC’s online security policies.

Advancing the idea of “internet sovereignty” to justify increasing state control over online activity, the administration unveiled a new cybersecurity law in July that allows authorities to cut internet access during “public security emergencies”.

Such measures were previously exercised in Xinjiang and Tibet during periods of unrest.

Ryan Ho Kilpatrick is an award-winning journalist and scholar from Hong Kong who has reported on the city’s politics, protests, and policing for The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, TIME, The Guardian, The Independent, and others