On Tuesday, state media announced that China may start obliging all internet users to register using their real names when signing up to network providers, extending a policy which is already in action regarding microblogs, in an attempt to control what officials call rumors and vulgarity.
The new law being deliberated upon this week would mean that people will be required to present their government-issued identity cards upon signing contracts for fixed line and mobile internet access.
“The law should escort the development of the internet to protect people’s interest,” Communist Party mouthpiece the People’s Daily said in a front page commentary, echoing similar comments carried in state media over the past week. “Only that way can our internet be healthier, more cultured and safer.”
Several Internet users said that the new limitations are, without a doubt, directed at restraining further the often harsh, blatant — and perhaps most significantly, anonymous — online chatter in China where the use of Internet offers a very limited opportunity to have an open debate. This law may also hinder people from exposing corruption online, fearing retaliation from officials, some users added.
It is not clear how these new rules are different from existing regulations, as the state media only gave vague details, and in practice customers have long had to present identity papers every time they sign contracts with internet providers.
Earlier this year, the government of China started forcing Sina Corp’s Weibo users to register their real names. Weibo is said to be a microblogging platform in China that reached groundbreaking success.
The government said that this system is important so as to restrict people who spawn anonymous and malicious accusations online, and that several other countries have the same rules.
“It would also be the biggest step backwards since 1989,” one indignant Weibo user wrote, in reference to the 1989 pro-democracy protests which were bloodily suppressed by the army.
Chinese internet users have long had to deal with such extensive censorship, specifically over topics that are politically sensitive, like human rights. World-famous foreign sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Google-owned YouTube are blocked in the country.
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