The skies are bluer and the Internet is freer in Beijing today after a week of censorship controversy and thick pollution plagued Olympic officials and journalists. But the situation at the Games, which begin in a week, is far from perfect.
The Chinese government lifted some Internet restrictions after journalists and other groups complained that promises for press freedom during the games were violated.
However, loosened controls do not mean the Chinese will stop monitoring all foreign activities. On Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., said that the Chinese government had installed Internet-spying equipment in all the major hotel chains serving the Olympics. He revealed a Chinese document that required such hotels to use monitoring devices during the Olympics.
Several major international hotel chains confirmed receiving the order to install online monitoring devices, Brownback said, citing a translated version of a document issued by China's Public Security Bureau.
One major international hotel chain, which operates in several Olympic host cities, told ABC News on condition of anonymity that they were recently contacted by Chinese authorities who requested that hotels install monitoring devices in their rooms, allowing the authorities to spy on guests.
This hotel chain, independently contacted by ABC, said that if they are forced, they will install the devices.
"The Chinese government has put in place a system to spy on and gather information about every guest at hotels where Olympic visitors are staying," Brownback said in a statement. "This means journalists, athletes' families and other visitors will be subjected to invasive intelligence gathering by the Chinese Public Security Bureau."
"I am very disappointed that the Chinese government will not follow through on its promise to the International Olympic Committee to maintain an environment free of government censorship during the Games," Brownback continued.
Monitoring and censorship of the Internet are common practices in China. Chinese citizens are routinely blocked from accessing Web sites related to traditionally controversial content including discussion on Taiwan independence and Tibet. Popular Western sites such as Wikipedia and Blogger are randomly blocked as well.
Concerned experts have warned Olympics visitors to bring "clean" laptops to guard from what they anticipate to be electronic information theft.
"People who are going to China should take a clean computer, one with no data at all," Phil Dunkelberger, chief executive of security software firm PGP Corp, told Reuters.
Dunkelberger and other experts recommended data encryption to protect contacts, business plans, and e-mails sent from China. Even if Internet monitoring devices are not installed in a hotel room, travelers with Blackberries or laptops could unknowingly offer personal or business information to government monitors.
The Beijing Public Security Bureau did not respond to requests for comment regarding Internet monitoring devices in Beijing hotels.
The hotel spying allegations surfaced as foreign journalists working in the Olympic Village press center were blocked from accessing Web sites, including homepages for Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch along with sites related to Tianenmen Square and Tibetan exile groups.