Life for toll evasion? Only in China

Leave it to China to hand down such jaw-dropping sentences like this.

TIME NewsFeed recently reported on a case where a Chinese citizen used military license plates to avoid payment for tolls in the amount of around 3.5 million yuan (equivalent to US$530,000 or so). Shi Jianfeng evaded the tolls while running a gravel transporting business for about eight months (2008 May to 2009 January) and was sentenced to life in prison, plus a fine equivalent to US$303,000. Yes, life in prison for toll evasion.

The public outcry was to be expected, even in a fascist country like China, and surprisingly enough, that got Shi a new trial. One of the factors in his favor was that he only profited the equivalent of US$30,000 (yes, about one-tenth of the amount he was fined) during the toll evasion stint. It’s easy to see how were he to have “honestly” paid his tolls, he probably would not have been able to stay in business.

Followups to this story indicate that the judges involved have been fired (, and that the younger brother was responsible for the fraud and the tolls are going down over time (Canadian Press/Google). However, the older Shi may still face seven years in prison for forgery.

For the uninitiated, here’s a bit about my stance on toll roads. Toll enforcement is one of the few places I approve of video surveillance, as long as the cameras put in place to document and aid in prosecution of toll evasion remain in place for only that reason. Any automated toll collection system quickly becomes unworkable otherwise, and it’s obvious that toll roads are the future as, at least here in the US, gasoline taxes have not provided the needed funding to build new roads, and have even sparked criticism as discriminating in favor of more fuel-efficient (and thus against less fuel-efficient) vehicles. My viewpoint on the latter is clear; I’ll just say I have a bit of an environmentalist leaning, and I frequently swore at SUV drivers during my stint as a courier and you can fill in the blanks.

So no, I don’t oppose toll roads per se; that’s a losing battle. I do oppose charging excessive tolls, and tolling a road without leaving a feasible alternative route that does not require payment of tolls. Most of the toll roads in the Houston area don’t fit either category, though it’s close in the case of the Fort Bend Parkway (which is halfway between US 59 and Texas 288, which diverge by several miles by the time you’re in Fort Bend County). According to a Wikipedia article, it would appear all such roads are tolled in China. So there’s a pretty strong case to forgive Shi’s toll evasion, and for the government to rethink what it’s charging for tolls if they are enough to mean the difference between turning a profit or burning out red pens by the boxful while filling out the balance sheet.

I don’t approve of the evasion of fairly assessed tolls, but the kind of madness that passed for acceptable in China (until this case) just begs for non-compliance.

China gives Google the boot

The Financial Times reports on China’s latest censorship move: telling Google to shutdown its site for Chinese residents.

With the rise of technologies like Tor, Freenet, GNUnet, Mixmaster, and OpenPGP (including GNU Privacy Guard), censorship as a whole is unsustainable in the personal computing realm.

China is trying to hang onto a fasicst-communist regime similar to the USSR’s. The USSR broke up 20 years ago. How dumb can you be to not know this, unless you are intentionally ignoring all references to it?

Censorship, the way China is doing it, is doomed, and in fact, has already been circumvented. As John Gilmore said: “The Net interpets censorship as damage and routes around it.”

The Internet is about a lot more than the physical wires and the computers across the world. The Internet is about the people that use it. The Internet is about freedom of speech. More importantly, not just free speech for those in Western countries, not just free speech in the US where we damn near take the First Amendment right of free speech for granted–the Internet is about free speech everywhere.

The sooner they figure that out in China, the better.

More on Green Dam

This just in: even the government-run Chinese media story contains statements critical of Green Dam. In particular:

“Government power should not be abused and more transparency is needed,” said Yu Guoming, a journalism expert with the Renmin University of China.

“The real purpose of a forced installation is still being questioned. It is important to emphasize that the government is keen to protect people’s rights to information, civil participation, opinion and supervision,” Chen Lidan, a senior researcher on journalism with the Renmin University of China, said yesterday during an online forum on People’s Daily website.

“The IT industry knows there is no reliable system to ensure all content is safe on the Web, but Web users have a choice to view what content they want to view,” said Fang Xingdong, a Beijing-based IT expert.

If the Chinese government is willing to publish statements like these in its own media, one can only imagine what they are hiding.

China and censorship: the Green Dam fiasco

Maybe it’s just me, but the first thing I think of now when I hear “China” is “censorship.”

Two recent articles on Freedom to Tinker address the new “mandatory” Green Dam software. The first article by Dan Wallach exposes just how powerful censorship software becomes when installed on the end user’s PC. Since I doubt that Green Dam will be released under a free software license (this is China we’re talking about here) it also highlights just how dystopian things can get when one trusts proprietary, non-free software. This is either the bottom of the slippery slope or very far down it.

The second article by Ed Felten describes just how insecure Green Dam is. In essence it is a security breach waiting to happen. I’m not surprised. A quote from a University of Michigan report quoted within the article sums it up nicely:

Correcting these problems will require extensive changes to the software and careful retesting. In the meantime, we recommend that users protect themselves by uninstalling Green Dam immediately.

I honestly am quite surprised that the software would even allow for uninstallation given what it is designed to do (censorship) and where it is designed to do it (on PCs in China). If Green Dam does allow for uninstallation, this is the first thing any responsible PC owner in China who gives a damn about his/her freedom will do.  I personally build my own PCs when I can, and start with a clean hard drive when I can’t. It would honestly surprise me if neither is an option in China.

Same old dog, same old tricks: China and censorship

This time none other than the New York Times is the (un)fortunate victim:

China blocks Internet access to New York Times – Yahoo! News

My notes to Chinese government officials who may stumble across this:

  1. The Soviet Union collapsed for a reason.
  2. As John Gilmore so eloquently put it: “The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.”
  3. Trying to censor the New York Times just makes you look like a bunch of boneheads to the rest of the world.