GW Web sites unavailable in China

GW officials and the Chinese government are trading allegations over why the University is one of more than 19,000 organizations whose Web sites is frequently inaccessible in China.

The Chinese government told GW officials that it does not block the University’s sites and that the inability of Internet users to log on to the sites is caused by GW’s computer filtering system.

But in interviews last week, GW officials said the University’s computer filtering system should not impede access to its pages. Information Systems and Services first discovered that the University’s sites could not be accessed in September 2002, said Kerry Washburn, ISS director of Administrative Applications.

“ISS is not deploying any ‘filtering’ that would prevent a population from accessing GW Web sites,” Washburn wrote in an e-mail. “These sites are accessible through the public Internet.”

“Since the filtering occurs in China, there is no technical solution available to us to prevent it,” she added.

David Shambaugh, a GW political science professor who heads the China Policy Program, called for University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg to write a formal letter of protest and meet with the Chinese ambassador if it is determined that China blocks GW’s sites. Chinese government officials at the country’s embassy in D.C. would not comment about the issue.

The Chinese government “maintains an active interest in preventing users from viewing certain web content,” according to a 2002 study conducted by Harvard University. More than 19,000 sites containing information about Taiwan, democracy and certain political issues are often inaccessible in the communist country.

Sites operated by the United States Army, Islamic Virtual School, Columbia University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are among the most frequently unreachable Web sites in China, according to the study.

Students studying in China have notified study abroad officials about the inability to reach GW’s pages, said Office for Study Abroad Director Lynn Leonard, who noted that the sites’ inaccessibility is “an inconvenience that might be expected when you study in another country.”

Some students studying in China said they are frustrated that they cannot log on to GW services such as Banner and Colonial Mail

“I’m supposed to have less worries on my study abroad experience, but since the GW Web site is out of commission in China, I always have to keep in constant contact with my family and friends to see if everything of mine is in order for next year,” said Richard Chin, who is studying in Shanghai and uses a Hotmail account while in China.

Chin said he is unable to register for classes next semester and that a “caretaker” or trusted friend living on campus will use his Banner code to sign him into classes.

“Jostling for classes is already a headache, but having someone else sign in for you is (even) riskier,” Chin said.

GW does not offer alternative sites that would provide information or services to students studying in China.

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