China Bans Domains

Chinese authorities ban registration for certain Internet domains, sparking fears of a wider crackdown.
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People use computers at an Internet cafe in Beijing, June 3, 2009.
People use computers at an Internet cafe in Beijing, June 3, 2009.

HONG KONG—A ban on registering certain domain names is part of a Chinese effort to tighten Internet controls, according to Chinese Internet experts.

Registration of domains with the suffix “.cn” was banned Monday, according to the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), which serves as the cyber management branch of the Chinese government.

The government has said tighter Internet restrictions are needed to effectively crack down on pornography.

But Qiao Jing, vice president of cyber enterprise DotAsia, said restricting applicants to other domain names will ultimately hurt China’s Internet economy.

“This incident will certainly strengthen the official hands in eliminating pornography. It seems that now the review over domain name applications will be stricter,” Qiao said.

“The procedure for international domain registration, provided by VeriSign, is to review after registration, not before it. However, if CNNIC reviews applicants in advance, those applicants who wanted “.cn” may turn to “.com” [suffixes]. This is not good for China’s business,” he said.

A Guangzhou-based Internet expert surnamed Li said the measure was introduced to crack down on netizens who sought to establish Web sites outside of the control of the central government.

“The reason for the CNNIC decision is probably because it was criticized by CCTV for its handling of the domain name registration process, but the real purpose is to rein in the spread of personal domains,” Li said, referring to China Central Television (CCTV).

CCTV criticism

CCTV last week aired a program titled “Uncontrolled Domain Names” on its “Topics in Focus” segment, criticizing CCNIC for the spread of pornography on China’s cell phones.

The program suggested that CNNIC, part of China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, is too lax in its supervision of Internet domain name registration, leading to misleading, inaccurate, and incomplete registration information from applicants.

Following the program, CNNIC punished three Internet domain registration offices and unveiled a set of new rules regarding domain registration on its Web site.

The latest rule, published Saturday, denies netizens the right to register for domain names containing the suffix “.cn,” beginning 9 a.m. on Dec. 14.

Netizens concerned

CNNIC’s new regulation has caused concern among China’s netizens, who fear that more crackdowns on the registration of international domain names may follow.

Some netizens have suggested that the Chinese government may seek to eventually ban all personal Internet domain registration.

Others see Internet forums, personal blogs, personal chat and networking sites, and peer-to-peer file transfer services as other potential targets of a larger Internet rein-in.

Beijing-based blogger Guo Weidong said that CNNIC is seeking to control public opinion, “because it is absurd to close so many Web sites in the name of eliminating pornography.”

“This is a fabrication. We all know that China’s currency, the yuan, can be used to buy food, drink, houses, and cars. And it can also be used to buy drugs, guns, ammunition, and even prostitutes. Can you say that the yuan is illegal and committing obscene acts?”

Increase in online censorship

Many of China’s nearly 360 million netizens are disgruntled at the increasing failure of Internet circumvention tools to get around the sophisticated set of blocks and censorship filters known as the “Great Firewall.”

Chinese netizens and overseas technology experts say the authorities are now successfully undermining key software used to get around the Great Firewall, such as U.S.-based software developer Andrew Lewman’s Tor “tunneling” software and U.S.-based Dynamic Internet Technology’s Freegate software.

Netizens have also reported problems using Chinese versions of the micro-blogging service, Twitter.

Twitter equivalents Fanfou, Jiwai, and Digu were recently shut down, forcing many Internet users to migrate to Twitter, bloggers said.

And when leading Chinese Internet portal launched its own Twitter-like service, Sina Micro Bo, users complained of too many controls.

To sign up for the service, users must receive a registration invitation containing a password.

The operators further limit users’ freedom by strictly monitoring comment boards and by using automatic filters.

The controls on Sina Micro Bo are consistent with attempts by Beijing to impose real-name user registration on all of China’s netizens, making anonymous Web surfing much more difficult.

Additionally, China has detained dozens of bloggers and online authors in recent months.

Authorities around the country subjected dozens more to temporary house arrest and police interviews ahead of the sensitive 60th anniversary of Communist Party rule on Oct. 1.

Original reporting by Xin Yu for RFA’s Mandarin service. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated by Ping Chen. Written for the Web in English by Joshua Lipes. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.





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