China's police are struggling to clamp down on Internet crime that is growing more rampant in the face of vague and inadequate laws, senior police officials say.
"The most common Internet crimes involve theft, racketeering, resources and services fraud, mass disruption and inconvenience to the public," said Xu Jianzhuo, deputy director of the Internet security bureau under the Public Security Ministry.
The number of Chinese with access to the Internet exceeds 100 million. Xu said last year police investigated more than 20,000 complaints of online theft, but very few resulted in prosecutions.
However, Xu said actual cases of Internet theft in relation to online banking and gaming alone could be in the millions.
"Only a handful of people have been convicted in recent years," said Xu, attributing the low prosecution rate to inadequate legislation.
Chinese law only forbids hacking into the classified information networks of state affairs, national defense, and high-end technology development, and stipulates a maximum penalty of three years' imprisonment.
It also forbids the sabotage of computer systems by deleting, changing or adding data, an offence that carries a maximum penalty of five years in jail.
From 1997 to 2005, police investigated 11,521 alleged Internet crimes, but only 14 resulted in convictions for sabotage, said Li Jingjing, security solutions bureau of the Ministry of Public Security.
"The legislation is so vague that it is difficult to apply in court," Li said, citing its failure to specifically criminalize hacking or sabotage in areas such as healthcare, finance, and energy.
"Soft penalties only encourage more Internet hackers," Li said, adding that many online crimes are not reported to police.
The government recently launched a series of campaigns against Internet pornography and online gambling. Xu said great progress has been made in these areas, but the police can do little against Internet theft and fraud.
"Hacker activities are rampant," Xu said, noting that the advanced technology used by hackers increases the challenge for the police.
Police figures show 80 percent of computer systems were affected by one of the 72,836 new viruses in 2005. About 9,100 websites reported attacks by hackers, including 2,027 government websites.
Xu said the majority of hackers were operating for their own profit, rather than just showing off as their predecessors did. "They focused on stealing information and attacking business rivals."
He said the police are trying to prosecute them, but they lack the technology to locate victims and collect evidence.
(Xinhua News Agency April 10, 2006)