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China turns the screws on netizens with real-name registration plans

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Any hopes that the recent change in Communist Party leadership would signal a relaxing of online restrictions in China appear to have been dashed after state media revealed plans for the roll-out of real-name registration for all internet users.

The nation’s top policymakers on the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) have begun debating the draft decision, which would force China’s 530 million netizens to register with their ISPs, according to Xinhua.

"Such identity management could be conducted backstage, allowing users to use different names when publicising information," said Li Fei, deputy director of the NPC Standing Committee’s Commission for Legislative Affairs.

The proposals are being pushed forward ostensibly to make it easier for the authorities to weed out online fraudsters, spammers and the like, although they would obviously also make life more uncomfortable for whistleblowers and critics of the Party.

They also raise potential privacy concerns for China’s web users if registration data is not suitably protected by the relevant ISPs and network operators.

China, of course, has a dubious track record when it comes to the restriction of online freedoms. Government ID is required to use internet cafes and real-name registration rules are already in place for website owners, mobile and fixed-line phone users and, as of this year, microblogs such as Sina Weibo.

The latest proposals come as the country’s incoming leadership, headed up by newly appointed Party general secretary Xi Jingping, begin to stamp their mark on policy.

In the internet sphere there have been ominous signs of even tighter government control, with recent tweaks to the Great Firewall designed to disrupt leading VPN providers and news of forthcoming regulation of the mobile apps market. ®

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