Advances in information technology have the potential to empower individuals globally and to serve as a force for democratization. The number of Internet users in mainland China continues to increase at a phenomenal rate. From 1998 to 2005, China's online population grew from 1.17 million to 103 million, with the most recent official count in January 2006 at approximately 110 million. In China, the Internet has become an increasingly important tool for empowering Chinese activists, journalists, rights defenders, intellectuals and grassroots groups by providing increased access to information as well as a virtual commons for the exchange of ideas between groups and individuals. However, technology and control of the Internet have also been utilized by the Chinese government to implement censorship, surveillance and social and political control. In the last several months, as foreign IT companies have come under media and U.S. government scrutiny, HRIC has been actively monitoring the human rights impact of their activities and developing suggestions for implementing the human rights responsibilities of foreign-based IT companies operating in China.
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