The Number of Internet-Related Crimes in China

Alas, there is no authoritative source about that number, and that is a bad thing in terms of policy analysis and evaluation.

What is an Internet-related crime anyway?

I am going to translate a list of the most frequently occurring Internet/mobile telephone-related crimes as provided to Ta Kung Pao by the Sichuan Provincial Internet Supervisory Department (via ChineseNewsNet):

1. Fraudsters used false identities to register multiple user accounts at electronic auction sites to offer vaious cheaply-priced items with photographs.  When the consumers forward the first payment, the fraudsters offer various excuses to ask for insurance fees, deposits, payment of the balance and so on before shipping the merchandise (and they won't provide refunds either).  Consumers are forced to continue to send in money until they realize that they have been cheated.

2. They appeal to some people's curiosity and risk-taking behavior to offer false documents, diplomas and other illegal information.  Once the buyer sends the money in, the seller disappears.  Since these are banned items, the victims often dare not report to the police.

3. They establish gambling, pornographic and entertainment download page or send out SMS to obtain mobile phone and telephone registration fees.

4. They establish fake bank websites or send out fake SMS in the name of the bank to commit fraud.

5. They go through email or SMS to falsely report that lucky prize winnings.

6. They go though Internet chat to gain the trust of a user or else use a trojan horse to steal a QQ number, and they use that QQ number to defraud the friends of that original user.

7. Install viruses and trojan horses through Internet chat to obtain bank-related information of chat partners.

8. Commit fraud through selling game equipment and ID numbers on game exchange platforms or fake websites.

9. Defraud students by selling university entrance examination information, graduate student examination questions, fourth and sixth grade English-language examination questions and offers to sit examinations on their behalf. 










There is no number associated with this list.

From Philip Pan in the Washington Post today:

In Wednesday's testimony, Michael Callahan, Yahoo's general council, said the Chinese police don't explain the nature of their investigations when they request data, and he argued that Yahoo is required by law to comply with their requests.  Refusing, he said, might subject Yahoo's Chinese employees to prosecution. He also declined to say how many times Yahoo has provided user data to the police, saying Chinese law prohibited him from doing so.

But Li's well-respected attorney, Zhang Sizhi, said no law prohibits Yahoo from disclosing its contacts with the police. He said Yahoo should have refused to provide user data because almost all such requests are related to political investigations [emphasis added].  "They faced a choice, and they surrendered," he said, arguing that the firm could have moved its servers out of China and that its employees were in no danger. "They're making excuses."

Here I find it hard to believe that the ratio of political investigations to non-political investigations (such as the listed crimes above) is "almost all" to "almost nothing."  If this is true, then the Chinese police are really not doing their job with respect to the non-political crimes (just count the number of obviously criminal spam mail in your inbox!).

What do you think it is in a country with 100 million Internet users?  How many such Internet-related crimes occur each year in China?  10, or 100, or 100,000, or 1,000,000, or 10,000,000?  While you think about this, please remember that the most frequently cited statistic for China is the 87,000 mass incidents during year 2005.  Could there be more mass incidents than individual Internet-related crimes in China?  Think about it.  And if there are a lot more Internet-related individual crimes than 87,000, then could "almost" all of them be political crimes?

In any case, let me state that I don't what the total number is and I don't what the composition is.  But that number is important.

Why is that number important?

Consider now US Rep. Chris Smith's Global Online Freedom Act of 2006.  Here is one section (via RConversation):

U.S. businesses with internet content hosting services can’t provide personally identifying user information to officials in internet-restricting countries “except for legitimate foreign law enforcement purposes as determined by the Department of Justice.”

Furthermore, as noted by Asia Pundit:

UNITED STATES BUSINESS.—The term ‘‘United States business’’ means—
(A) any corporation, partnership, association, joint-stock company, business trust, unincorporated organization, or sole proprietorship that—
(i) has its principal place of business in the United States; or
(ii) is organized under the laws of a State of the United States or a territory,possession, or commonwealth of the United States;
(B) every issuer of a security registered pursuant to section 12 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (15 U.S.C. 78l)

That means not only Google, MSN and Yahoo!, but also,,, Tencent and any other Chinese US-listed companies will have have to forward their Chinese police warrants to the US Department of Justice for determination.  Another caveat: There is a distinction between the number of Internet-related crimes and the number of Internet-related criminal investigations.  The majority of criminal investigations do not result in prosecution due to lack of evidence, but nevertheless one would not know that until afterwards.

The practical problem is this.  If the number of investigations is 100 or 1,000 per year, it may be a viable project for the US Department of Justice.  If the number of investigations each year is 1,000,000 or even just 100,000, the US Department of Justice does not have the resources in Chinese-language translators and/or Chinese legal experts to do the job.  (note: I know because I used to do work for the US DOJ as recounted in this previous post).

The smartest thing to do is to have the appearance of doing something to claim political credit but without having any actual responsibility or doing any work.  Thus, the US Department of Justice will issue a set of rules to the "United States businesses" (e.g. okay against blackmailing; not okay against political commentary; be ambiguous on 'state secrets') and then let the companies implement those rules and take the heat for all the "bad" outcomes.  If a case results in a crime not being prevented in time, you join to call them incompetent and stupid; if a case results in a dissident being arrested, you join to call them spineless collaborators; if the company gets shut down, you award them a Medal of Freedom.  Life is good ...

Here, I am struck by the awesome symmetry.  On the Chinese side, the Internet Supervisory Department recognizes that its 30,000 police officers (or whatever the number is) will not be able to monitor 600,000+ websites or 110 million Internet users.  Therefore, they have outsourced the job to the forum masters and blog service providers.  They provide a set of orders (e.g. okay for complaints about social issues such as traffic tickets; not okay about Li Datong and the shutdown of Freezing Point weekly magazine) and then they just make periodic checks to see if the orders are being carried out.  If everything looks fine, there won't be a single telephone call; if something slips through, the forum master is dismissed; if the problems are consistent, the website is shut down.  Life is good ...