China Tightens Its Grip on Internet Access

Article excerpt

The new rules make it harder for businesses to protect commercial secrets and for individuals to continue viewing overseas Web sites that the Chinese Communist Party deems politically sensitive.

The Chinese government issued new rules Friday requiring Internet users to provide their real names to service providers, while assigning Internet companies greater responsibility for deleting forbidden postings and reporting them to the authorities.

The decision came as government censors have sharply stepped up restrictions on China's international Internet traffic in recent weeks. The restrictions are making it harder for businesses to protect commercial secrets and for individuals to view overseas Web sites that the Chinese Communist Party deems politically sensitive.

The new regulations, issued by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, allow Internet users to continue to adopt pseudonyms for their online postings, but only if they first provide their real names to service providers, a measure that could chill some of the vibrant discourse on the country's Twitter-like microblogs. The authorities periodically detain and even jail Internet users for politically sensitive comments, like calls for a multiparty democracy or allegations of impropriety by local officials.

The Standing Committee ordered that any entity providing Internet access, either over fixed lines or cellphones, "should, when signing agreements with users or confirming provision of services, demand that users provide true information about their identities."

In recent weeks, Internet users in China have exposed a series of sexual and financial scandals that have led to the resignations or dismissals of at least 10 local officials.

The international news media have also published a series of reports in recent months on the accumulation of wealth by the family members of China's leaders, and some Web sites carrying such reports, including Bloomberg's and the English- and Chinese- language sites of The New York Times, have been blocked, while Internet comments about them have been swiftly deleted.

The regulations issued Friday build on a series of similar administrative guidelines and municipal rules issued over the past year. China's mostly private Internet service providers have been slow to comply with them, fearing the reactions of their customers.

The Standing Committee's decision has greater legal force, and puts more pressure on Chinese Internet providers to comply more quickly and comprehensively, Internet specialists said.

In what appeared to be an attempt to make the decision more palatable to the Chinese public, the Standing Committee also included a mandate for businesses in China to be more cautious in gathering and protecting electronic data.

"Nowadays on the Internet there are very serious problems with citizens' personal electronic information being recklessly collected, used without approval, illegally disclosed, and even traded and sold," Li Fei, a deputy director of the Standing Committee's legislative affairs panel, said at a news conference in Beijing on Friday. "There are also a large number of cases of invasive attacks on information systems to steal personal electronic information, as well as lawbreaking on the Internet through swindles and through defaming and slandering others."

Mr. Li denied that the government was seeking to prevent the exposure of corruption.

"When citizens exercise these rights according to the law, no organization or individual can use any reason or excuse to interfere, and cannot suppress them or exact revenge," he said.

"At the same time, when citizens exercise their rights, including through use of the Internet, they should stay within the bounds of the Constitution and the laws, and must not harm the legitimate rights and interests of the state, society, the collective or of other citizens. …

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