China passes new law to tighten controls on Internet
China has tightened control over Internet usage making it mandatory for the users to register with their real names with the service providers, belying expectations of opening up after once-in-a-decade leadership change.
The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) -- China's Parliament -- has approved the draft stating that it was aimed at protecting personal information, state-run CCTV reported.
While critics slammed it as an attempt by the government to reinforce its controls on the Internet, especially the burgeoning social media through Chinese Twitter, Weibo, the government defended it as measure to protect the privacy.
Some reports claim that the identity management policy will discourage online muckrakers who have worked to expose corrupt government officials in recent years, a commentary in state-run Xinhua news agency said.
Many service providers already maintain similar requirements. China Telecom, China Mobile and China Unicom, China's three biggest telecoms companies, have required individuals and enterprises to provide their real names when subscribing to data transmission services since September 2010, it said.
Sina Weibo, a popular microblogging site that has been used by netizens to blow the whistle on corrupt officials, has required users to register with their real names since earlier this year, it said.
Twitter and Facebook are banned in China but the number of Chinese microbloggers, akin to Twitter this year crossed 274 million mark, the largest in the world as Internet medium has emerged as the main stay of public expression in a tightly controlled official media set up in China.
According to China Internet Network Information Centre (CINIC), 274 million Chinese people had microblog accounts as of June this year.
The number of Internet users in China rose to 538 million by the end of June, meaning that four out of ten Chinese access the Internet, the CINIC report said.
It is estimated that by 2015 China will have more than 800 million Internet users, one quarter of which will be from rural areas.
The new law is intended to better protect Internet users' privacy and provide a legal basis for safeguarding online information safety to ensure the healthy and orderly development of the Internet, a spokesman of the NPC said.
Media in China is totally state controlled and the microblogs have become a major source of information to people in the last two years, posing a threat to the existence of the official media.
The new Internet rules belies expectations that China would open up its cyberspace after the once-in-a-decade leadership change in the ruling Communist Party of China last month.
Already the government has taken several measures to control the microblogs insisting that the users should register accounts with real identities and the new law was expected to help to firm up officials controls on the net which is already reeled under the Great Fire Walls of China.
According to the draft bill authorities would protect digital information that could be used to determine the identity of a user or that concerns a user's privacy.
It proposes the adoption of an identity management policy requiring Internet users to identify themselves to service providers, including Internet or telecommunications operators.
"Such identity management could be conducted backstage, allowing users to use different names when publicising information," Li Fei, deputy director of Commission for Legislative Affairs of the NPC said.
The real identity is the most contentious issue as critics say the fear of the crackdown would prevent people from coming out with startling disclosures like recent sex and corruption scandals of officials.