The Chinese government’s further tightening of internet controls and mandating real name registration threaten security and privacy of internet users, according to a report by Human Rights Watch.
According to the report, on December 28, 2012, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, China’s legislative body, passed the “Decision to Strengthen the Protection of Online Information.” The Decision contains troubling provisions that require internet access and telecommunications providers to collect personal information about users when they sign up for internet access, landline, or mobile phone service. Paragraph 6 of the Decision also applies to service providers that allow users to publish online, who must be able to connect pseudonyms to real identities when citizens post information. In the days following the decision, several well-known online activists found that their weibo micro-blogging accounts had been shut down.
“These new mandates send a chilling message to China’s netizens,” said Cynthia Wong, senior researcher on the internet and human rights at Human Rights Watch. “The government’s decision is an effort to silence critics and curb anonymity online by further conscripting internet companies to monitor and censor users.”
“Real name registration” requirements allow authorities to more easily identify online commentators or tie mobile use to specific individuals, limiting anonymous expression, “whistleblowers” who spotlight official corruption, and the right to privacy.
Even without energetic enforcement, the law will suppress critical speech as users may fear that anything they post critical of the government could lead to reprisals.
Although the right to freedom of expression is guaranteed in article 35 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, the Chinese government continues to regularly impose sharp curbs, including through broad internet censorship, surveillance practices, and prosecution of citizens and journalists for their online activity, Human Rights Watch warned.