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Animated Police Patrol Chinese Internet Sites

Police in China are patrolling the Web using animated beat officers that pop up on a user's browser and walk, cycle, or drive across the screen warning people to stay away from illegal content. Sam Beattie has the story from Beijing.

Security officers are a familiar sight on Beijing's streets. Now they will be commonly seen in Chinese homes, schools and work places as animated police officers start patrolling the Internet.

Web police officers pop up on 13 of Beijing's most used web portals to remind users that authorities are monitoring the Internet. By the end of the year, they will be patrolling all web sites registered in the capital.

Beijing Public Security Ministry officials say the animated officers will watch for web sites that incite secession, promote superstition, gambling and fraud.

New media professor Kuang Wenbo from Beijing's People's University says he welcomes the surveillance. "There are more and more Web users. It does need management,” says the professor. “Before most Internet users were elites that had better self control, now the Internet is more popular with many more users, different people have different actions. More strict management is completely understandable."

China has the world's second-largest number of Internet users, with around 160 million people online.

They access an Internet that is closely monitored for material and content that the government finds politically or morally threatening. China's Internet surveillance department says it is its duty to wipe out information that harms the public or disrupts social order.

Yet in households across the country, pornography, gambling and pirated movies have proliferated on Chinese Internet servers despite the governments efforts.

Home computer users such as Liu Mingqui say the cartoon police will not limit his viewing options. "If I do not want to look at it, I will not. But if I want to, no one can stop me. Even if there are 100 police, I can just turn off the computer and go somewhere else to see it."

And while some Internet users think the animated police will have little effect, others think this is an invasion of privacy. Internet user Zhong Birong said, "When I am reading serious topics, I am concentrating. These 'reminders' are just annoying."

In the next two years, China may overtake the United States as the world's biggest Internet community. The animated police force is the government's latest attempt to try to control it.