Chinese regulators have released new rules which would require identity verification for people in China who make comments on the internet. This new regulation expands on a prior regulation that has been in effect for several years already which requires identity verification in order for people in China to purchase cell phone numbers or to use online chat services such as Weibo and WeChat. The new identification rules from the Cyberspace Administration of China come on the heels of a new regulation which bans the use of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs).
Supporters of the new ID rule point to other countries around the world that have been cracking down on digital rights in the name of defending “national security”.
“The censorship has not created obstacles for innovation and development, and this proves that the policy is at least suitable for China. Not only China, but many other countries, including the US and many European countries have been strengthening control over the internet for national security reasons,” professor Shen Yi of the Fudan University’s Cyberspace Research Center, who is a supporter of the new rules, said to the The Global Times.
Shen Yi seems to feel that if the Americans censor the internet, then that means it is ok for China to censor the internet as well. The professor points to American censorship of the internet that has occurred with the passage of the bipartisan Countering Disinformation and Propaganda Act, which was included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2017.
The Cyberspace Administration of China’s new amended internet regulations also include data retention rules which require website administrators to record and store user data. Websites would also be required to investigate users who they suspect may be using false identities. People who refuse to provide identification will be prohibited from making comments. Prior to the new identification rules being issued, the largest Chinese activist forum which allowed users to make anonymous posts was forced to require users to identify themselves by the Chinese web host Baidu.
The new regulations will take effect on October 1 of this year. Once the new rules go into effect, users will be forbidden from posting content which goes against the “principles of the constitution of China,” or content which harms the Chinese government’s honor or interests. Making posts which oppose the reunification of territories such as Taiwan are also prohibited. Users must also parrot the state’s position on religion, and are forbidden from complaining about China’s policies which infringe on the freedom of religion. The sharing of pornography or the expression of hate speech is also forbidden under the rules. Whistleblowing, and journalism which covers whistleblowers is also prohibited.
Three of China’s largest tech companies are currently under investigation by the Cyberspace Administration for not censoring their users enough. The three companies that are being investigated include Baidu, Sina, and Tencent. Government officials in China have ordered another three major telecommunications companies to prohibit the use of VPNs on their systems. Those three companies include China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom. VPNs allow Chinese users to break on through to the other side of the “Great Firewall” and have the ability to access the open, uncensored internet. The Communist Party of China has deemed sites like YouTube, Facebook, and The New York Times unacceptable for Chinese internet users and have tried to block access to it through Chinese internet providers. The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology is reported to have issued these regulations, which are said to go in effect in February of next year. In January of this year the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology issued a proclamation to Chinese telecommunications companies which instructed them to only allow VPNs to be used for business purposes inside of companies. The Chinese regulators plan to spend over a year cracking down on the use of VPNs by individuals. Earlier this summer, the Chinese government enacted a law which aims to restrict the flow of information across Chinese borders. Further restrictions on digital rights and liberties are expected to be made during the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China. Earlier this year, officials in the Xinjiang province of China began forcing people to install spyware on their mobile devices.