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Dec 29, 2012 02:06 PM IST | Source: ft.com

China tightens internet controls

China has tightened its control of the internet, enshrining in law a requirement for internet companies and telecom operators to confirm the identity of their users to make it easier for the authorities to trace the source of "illegal" online information or behaviour.

China tightens internet controls

China has tightened its control of the internet, enshrining in law a requirement for internet companies and telecom operators to confirm the identity of their users to make it easier for the authorities to trace the source of "illegal" online information or behaviour.


The step is set to increase the pressure on the mostly private companies that run China's vibrant social media, and could send a chill through the country's internet which has become the freest space for news and debate in a country with an otherwise tightly controlled media.


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It dashes hopes that the new leadership under Xi Jinping who took office last month might adopt a more liberal political course than his predecessor Hu Jintao, who presided over years of steady tightening of online censorship.


The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, the rubber stamp parliament, on Friday passed the "Decision to Strengthen the Protection of Online Information". The regulation threatens internet companies with fines, website closures and cancellation of licences if they fail to comply with requirements to censor content published by their users.


"Providers of internet services must step up the management of information published by their users," the document says. "When they discover information that laws and regulations forbid from publishing or distributing, they must immediately stop the distribution of that information, take steps to delete or remove it, save the record, and report the incident to the related authorities."


China's ruling Communist party has long controlled web content by demanding internet companies censor what goes up on their sites. It has also tried to strengthen its grip on users with periodical pushes for real name registration. But so far, these attempts have been unsuccessful in confirming the identity of most of China's more than 500m web users. Analysts said the new push also faces challenges as mobile broadband and other new technologies make it easier for users to go online quickly without prior registration or conceal the location where they are accessing a network.


The law follows a stream of accusations of corruption and sex scandals against party and government officials in recent weeks on the country's Twitter-like microblogs. Over the past 10 days, state media prepared the public for the crackdown with a barrage of analysis and commentary calling for "rule of law" on the internet.


Li Fei, a senior NPC official, told a news conference worries that the new rules would no longer allow people to blow the whistle on corruption were unfounded. But he warned that when people exercise their right to use the web, they must "not harm the legal rights of the state, society . . . or other citizens".


Many web users reacted with dismay to the new rule. "Strongly oppose such a covert means to interfere with internet freedom!" wrote one user of Sina Weibo, the country's leading Twitter equivalent.


The new regulations come in step with a crackdown on virtual private networks, technical tools many people use to circumvent China's blockages of websites from outside the country.

Additional reporting by Zhao Tianqi

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