HONG KONG—Tough new regulations aimed at monitoring Internet usage are being rolled out across China, with Internet cafes in the southwestern province of Sichuan now requiring a swipe of smart ID cards before allowing people online.
"You have to have a second-generation ID card now," an employee who answered the phone at one Internet cafe in the provincial capital, Chengdu, said. "And it has to belong to you."
Local media reports said a new clampdown would get under way in Sichuan from June to September this year, following a similar police campaign in the central city of Wuhan, in which people using their relatives' ID cards were taken into administrative detention.
Government regulations are calling for Internet cafes in the province to hook up their surveillance cameras to a central viewing channel monitored by the provincial government by the end of the year, with punishments and fines for businesses that do not comply.
Li Yonglong, an official of Internet management at the general office of the Sichuan provincial government, confirmed the crackdown is part of government policy.
"That's correct," he said, when asked to confirm news reports. However, he declined to give further details. "I can't give interviews," Li said. "There are rules here."
Sichuan-based writer Ran Yunfei said that while the government claims that the new regulations are in place to protect underage netizens from inappropriate and pornographic content, they are also used by the ruling Communist Party to limit content that Chinese netizens can view online.
"This won't affect me too much because I rarely use Internet cafes, but not everyone's like me. Our rights should be protected," Ran said.
He said that hidden behind the government's management of Internet cafes is an attempt to limit the explosion of public opinion that has occurred on Chinese Web sites in recent years.
And Beijing-based author Yu Jie said the scheme infringes upon the rights of ordinary people to privacy.
The 'safe flow of information'
The move to control and monitor access to the Internet through public cybercafes was initiated last year, as the government made it harder for Internet cafes to start up in business and announced a series of franchises for nationwide chains.
Last September, government-backed Internet Cafe Associations in 30 major Chinese cities and provinces issued a statement titled Self-regulating Declaration on Cleaning Up the Internet Cafe Industry, vowing to abide by China’s laws and regulations concerning the Internet.
In a policy paper on the Internet issued earlier this month, the Chinese government said it attaches "great importance" to the "safe" flow of information online, and seeks to "actively guide" people to manage Web sites "in a wholesome and correct way."
It lists as forbidden any content that "endangers state security," "divulges state secrets," or "subverts state power"—all charges that have been levied against prominent dissidents and human rights activists in recent years in Chinese courts, often resulting in lengthy prison sentences.
Any content that jeopardizes "ethnic unity," interferes with government religious policies, propagates "heretical or superstitious ideas," or "disrupts social stability" is also banned, according to the regulations governing China's Internet.
Such charges have been brought against Tibetans, Uyghurs, and other ethnic minorities who voice open disagreement with or protest against Beijing's policies in their homelands, or who call peacefully for independence or greater autonomy from Chinese rule.
According to Rebecca MacKinnon, visiting fellow at Princeton's Center for Information Technology Policy, the White Paper shows that Beijing is consciously developing its control of the Internet as part of its authoritarian rule, and intends also to wield influence over how it develops internationally.
"The Chinese government is not running scared from the Internet," MacKinnon wrote in a June 15 blog post titled China's Internet White Paper: Networked Authoritarianism in Action.
"It is embracing the Internet head-on, intends to be a leader in its global evolution, and intends to assert its influence on how the global Internet is governed and regulated."
Original reporting in Mandarin by Xin Yu. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated from the Chinese and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.