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Journalists warned over hacked Gmail accounts

Google speaks of "new approach" in response to censorship

(IPI/IFEX) - VIENNA, 20 Jan. 2010: The Foreign Correspondents Club of China warned its members in a statement on the Club's website on 18 January that "foreign correspondents in a few bureaus in Beijing have recently discovered that their Gmail (Google) accounts have been hijacked."

Last week, Internet giant Google announced that its servers had been the targets of a highly sophisticated series of attacks, which they claimed originated in China and were designed to invade the email accounts of Chinese human rights activists. A software expert based in the U.S confirmed to the New York Times that he had found proof that the attacks were, in fact, of Chinese origin. Google also warned that more than 20 other companies had been targeted in the cyber attacks.

Although Google stated that the hackers were only able to view account information and subject headers of emails, and that only two email accounts were compromised, the company has nevertheless increased security for all Gmail users.

In addition, it has announced that if talks with the Chinese government over whether or not Google will be permitted to stop censoring its web search engine in the country fail, it is prepared to withdraw from the Chinese market and close its offices in China.

"These highly sophisticated attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered - as well as attempts over the past year to limit free speech on the web even further - have led us to conclude that we are no longer comfortable censoring results in China and that we must take a new approach in China," Google spokesperson Kay Oberbeck told IPI yesterday.

A journalist with the Associated Press in Beijing told the New York Times that emails from his account had been forwarded to an unfamiliar email address. He also said that he was aware of other people whose email had also been forwarded from their account.

The Internet in China is highly censored, and Google and other search engines are required to filter search results for "sensitive" subjects. News sites and media are heavily censored, and the Chinese government maintains one of the world's most sophisticated and complex web censorship systems, nicknamed the Great Firewall.

On Jan 19, the New York Times reported that the Chinese government had directed cell phone companies to scan customers' text messages and to suspend services to customers whose messages contain sensitive "keywords."

"We welcome Google's statements in support of freedom of expression in China," said IPI Director David Dadge. "If companies such as Google are to have an impact on censorship in China, then other global companies must stand united with Google in the position it is taking."

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