Friday, December 28, 2012

After they take your guns....

China requires Internet users to register names

BEIJING (AP) — China's government tightened Internet controls Friday with approval of a law that requires users to register their names after a flood of online complaints about official abuses rattled Communist Party leaders.
Authorities say the law will strengthen protections for personal information. But it also is likely to curtail the Internet's status as a forum to complain about the government or publicize corruption.
"Their intention is very clear: It is to take back that bit of space for public opinion, that freedom of speech hundreds of millions of Chinese Internet users have strived for," said Murong Xuecun, a prominent Chinese writer.
The rules approved by China's national legislature highlight the chronic tension between the ruling Communist Party's desire to reap technology's benefits and its insistence on controlling information.
Beijing encourages Web use for business and education but tries to block material deemed subversive or obscene. It has steadily stepped up censorship, especially after social media played a role in protests that brought down governments in Egypt and Tunisia.
The latest measure requires users to provide their real names and other identifying information when they register with access providers or post information publicly.
"This is needed for the healthy development of the Internet," said Li Fei, deputy director of the legislature's Legal Work Committee, at a news conference.
Li rejected complaints that the public will be deprived of a forum that has been used to expose misconduct.
"The country's constitution protects citizens' rights in supervising and criticizing the state andgovernment officials' behavior," Li said.
The measure comes amid reports that Beijing might be disrupting use of software that allows Web surfers to see sites abroad that are blocked by its extensive filters.
At the same time, regulators have proposed rules that would bar foreign companies from distributing books, news, music and other material online in China.
The government has given no indication how it will deal with the technical challenge of registering the more than 500 million Chinese who use the Internet.
Microblog operators, two of which say they have more than 300 million users each, were ordered last year to confirm the identities of users but acknowledge they have yet to complete that task.
The main ruling party newspaper, People's Daily, has called weeks for tighter Internet controls, saying rumors spread online have harmed the public.
The secretive ruling party is uneasy about the public's eagerness to discuss politics and sensitive issues online despite threats of punishment.
In March, authorities scrambled to squelch online rumors about a possible coup amid a political crisis that led to the downfall of a prominent party figure, Bo Xilai, ahead of the party's fall leadership transition. A dozen websites were closed and six people detained.
This week, 70 prominent Chinese scholars and lawyers circulated an online petition this week appealing for free speech, independent courts and for the ruling party to encourage private enterprise.
Communist leaders who see the Internet as a promising source of economic growth were slow to enforce the same level of control they impose on movies, books and other media, apparently for fear of hurting e-commerce and other fledgling online businesses.
Until recently, Web surfers could post anonymous comments online or on microblogs.
That gave ordinary Chinese a unique opportunity to express themselves to a public audience in a society where newspapers, television and other media all are state-controlled. Some of the most popular microbloggers have millions of readers.
It also made the Internet a clearinghouse for accusations of official misconduct.
A local party official in China's southwest was fired in November after scenes from a videotape of him having sex with a young woman spread quickly on websites.
Web surfers can circumvent filters by using virtual private networks — encryption software that is used by companies for financial data and other sensitive information. But VPN users say disruptions began in 2011 and are increasing, suggesting regulators are trying to block encrypted traffic.

China has tightened internet controls, legalising the deletion of posts or pages which are deemed to contain "illegal" information.
The new laws also require service providers to hand over such information to the authorities for punishment.
The move signals that the new leadership headed by Communist Party chief Xi Jinping will continue to muzzle the often scathing online chatter in a country where the internet offers a rare opportunity for debate.
The regulations, announced by the official Xinhua news agency, also require internet users to register with their real names when signing up with network providers, though, in reality, this already happens.
Chinese authorities and Internet companies such as Sina Corp have long since closely monitored and censored what people say online, but the government has now put measures such as deleting posts into law.
Facebook's logo reflected over the Beijing skyline but China blocks its use
The rules state: "Service providers are required to instantly stop the transmission of illegal information once it is spotted and take relevant measures, including removing the information and saving records, before reporting to supervisory authorities."
The restrictions follow a series of corruption scandals amongst lower-level officials exposed by internet users, something the government has said it is trying to encourage.
Li Fei, deputy head of parliament's legislative affairs committee, told a news conference the rules did not mean people needed to worry about being unable to report corruption online.
But he warned: "When people exercise their rights, including the right to use the internet, they must do so in accordance with the law and constitution, and not harm the legal rights of the state, society ... or other citizens."
Chinese internet users already cope with extensive censorship measures, especially over politically sensitive topics like human rights and elite politics, and popular foreign sites Facebook, Twitter and Google-owned YouTube are blocked.
Earlier this year, the government began forcing users of Sina's wildly successful Weibo microblogging platform to register their real names, a move quickly condemned by some users.
"So now they are getting Weibo to help in keeping records and reporting it to authorities. Is this the freedom of expression we are promised in the constitution?" complained one user.
"We should resolutely oppose such a covert means to interfere with internet freedom," wrote another.
The government says tighter monitoring of the internet is needed to prevent people making malicious and anonymous accusations online.
It also wants to stop users disseminating pornography and spreading panic with unfounded rumours, pointing out that many other countries already have such rules.

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