China has approved new rules that require Internet users nationwide to provide real-name identification, state media reported on Friday, as the government increases its already tight online grip.
The National People’s Congress (NPC), the country’s legislature, adopted the measures at a meeting on Friday, the official Xinhua news agency and other media said.
According to Xinhua, the decision, which came at the end of a five-day session of the NPC Standing Committee, requires Internet users to offer their names as identification to telecommunications service providers when seeking access to their services.
“Network service providers will ask users to provide genuine identification information when signing agreements to grant them access to the Internet, fixed-line telephone or mobile telecommunication services or to allow users to post information publicly,” Xinhua quoted the decision.
Popular microblogging sites similar to Twitter have been used in China to air grievances and even to reveal wrongdoing by officials, and such muckraking is tolerated when it dovetails with the government’s own desire to rein in corruption.
However, with more than half a billion Chinese online, authorities are concerned about the power of the Internet to influence public opinion in a country that maintains tight controls on its traditional media outlets.
Beijing already regularly blocks Internet searches under a vast online censorship system known as the Great Firewall of China, but the growing popularity of microblogs, known as “weibos,” has posed a new challenge.
Censors keep watch on the weibos, which have been used to organize protests and challenge official accounts of events, such as a deadly rail crash last year that sparked fierce criticism of the government.
Dissident artist and fierce government critic Ai Weiwei (艾未未) on Friday criticized efforts to hinder Internet discourse.
“Blocking the Internet, an action that will limit the exchange of information, is an uncivilized and inhumane crime,” he said on Twitter, which is banned in China, but accessible for Internet users with more sophisticated equipment.
Li Fei (李非), a senior member of the legislature, said on Friday that there was no need to worry that the new rules could hinder citizens’ exposure of wrongdoing, Xinhua reported.
Xinhua, in a separate commentary on Friday, said the new rules are meant to defend the legal rights of Internet users “and will help, rather than harm, the country’s netizens” by, for example, protecting their privacy.