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China Considers Real Name Registration for All Internet Users

Following the call for more internet supervision by state-run People’s Daily newspaper last week, Xinhua news reported on December 24, 2012 that the Chinese government is considering a new law requiring real-name registration for its 500 million internet users.

According to Xinhua, the legislation would “safeguard” Internet users from defamation and fraud. Li Fei, deputy director of the Commission for Legislative Affairs of the NPC Standing Committee, said:

Such identity management could be conducted backstage, allowing users to use different names when publicizing information.

Although Chinese microblogging service Sina Weibo was required to introduce real-name registration earlier this year, implementation has been bogged down because of technical difficulties. Now the government is taking it to legislation, which could have a major impact on China’s social networking services such as Weibo which supports over 400 million registered users. While some netizens think it’s necessary to regulate the fast growing Internet service in China to protect personal information and avoid fraud, many worry that the move is just another way to further restrict freedom of speech.

Local TV team reports on the draft legislation for real-name registration, interviewing some web users about internet privacy. (Screenshot from Youku)

Local TV team reports on the draft legislation for real-name registration, interviewing some web users about internet privacy. (Screenshot from Youku)

Lawyer concerns

Liao Rui, a lawyer based in China's Sichuan province said on Weibo:

廖睿:该议案提出者的直接动因,是近来微博等网络媒体上络绎不绝的反腐败举报。恳请全国人大常委,在审议此议案时,如有涉及限制宪法规定的公民言论自由权利的违宪条款时,能严肃对待,以对国家、民族负责任的态度,投下你自己一票!

廖睿:The direct motivation of the proposal is the constant stream of anti-corruption comments on social media recently. I urge the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress to treat this proposal seriously as it involves citizens’ freedom of speech which the Constitution has regulated. Cast your own vote with responsibility to country and the nation!

Another lawyer and writer wrote on Weibo:

法客瑾爷:对于保障他人名誉权、防止网络犯罪具有重大意义,但难保不会成为政府干涉言论自由的帮凶。

法客瑾爷:The law is of great significance, helping to protect the reputation of Internet users and prevent cyber crime. But there is no guarantee that it will not become an accomplice to the government in interfering with freedom of speech.

Lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan with 70,000 followers on Weibo cited South Korea’s failed attempt for real-name registration as example:

刘晓原律师: 2012年8月23日,韩国宪法法院做出裁决,8名法官均认定网络实名制违背了宪法。宪法法院称互联网实名制阻碍了用户自由表达意见,没有身份证号的外国人很难登录留言板,此外留言板信息外泄的可能性增大,从这些因素来看,这一制度的不利影响并不小于其公益性。

刘晓原律师: On August 23, 2012, South Korea's Constitutional Court made the decision. Eight judges found that real-name registration violates the Constitution, as the Constitutional Court said that the Internet real-name system would hinder users’ freedom of expression, foreigners without ID numbers would have difficulty logging onto message boards, in addition, it also increases leaking of message board information. Judging by these factors, disadvantages far surpass any advantages that could have come from real-name registration.

What do ordinary netizens think?

东来和西去:我不知道你们立法的初衷是什么?是维护公民的言论自由还是扼杀?

东来和西去:I don’t know the intention of this law, is it to protect our freedom of speech or to control it?

扬尘无导:实名没什么可怕,怕的是应言获罪。

扬尘无导:Real-name registration is not scary, but being punished for online speech is.

zhang3:原来准备了那么多天的圣诞大礼,是网络实名制。实际也没啥。本来真要找你也是分分钟的事,现在就少走一个程序。短期会让人恐惧,长期会给人勇气,让人有担当。掘墓的,焉知不是为自家准备。

zhang3: The big Christmas gift prepared for so many days is Internet real-name registration. In fact it’s no big deal. It’s already easy for them to find you anyway, now it’s even easier. In the short term, it’s terrifying. In the long run, it makes us more brave. Who knows, the ones who dig the grave are not expecting to lay in it themselves.

游离的世界已经灰白:网络是悬在官员头上的一把利剑!立法是应当的,关键看这法怎么立?关键是如何处理保护官员与保护公民言论自由孰轻孰重的问题。

游离的世界已经灰白:The Internet is a sword hanging over the head of officials! Legislation is necessary, but the key is how to deal with both the protection of officials and the protection of citizens’ freedom of speech. Which comes the first?

Zhan Jiang, a professor at Beijing International Studies University suggested:

展江教授: 应该首先将《政府信息公开条例》上升为法律,并扩大政府信息公开范围;同时对言论自由制定保护性法律,然后才能进行限制性立法。否则,网络实名制最后可能法不责众,不了了之。

First we should elevate Government Information Publicity Regulations to law, and expand the scope of public disclosure of government information; at the same time, introducing laws protective of freedom of expression before developing restrictive legislation. Otherwise, real-name registration may not work out due to public criticism.

It is still unclear if or when the law would be implemented. In the past few weeks, the government has also obstructed pathways normally used by foreign VPN services for dodging censorship restrictions. It looks bleak for anyone hoping for looser Internet control in China.

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