China Mulls Looser Web Rules

Internet officials may reverse a ban on individuals who want to register a .cn Web address.

china-internet-305.jpg A man surfs the Internet in Beijing, June 15, 2009.

HONG KONG—Chinese officials running the country's Internet say they may reverse a ban on individuals who wish to register .cn domain names, official media have reported.

Qi Lin, assistant deputy at China's Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) told reporters the agency is currently drafting new rules that would allow individuals to register ".cn" domain names with their own identity.

"It's a trend that individuals register their own domain names," Qi was quoted as saying by the English-language China Daily newspaper.

"We are now working to check whether individual registrars' information is true, complete and accurate, and based on this we can quicken our speed in drawing up the regulation on individual domain name registration."

CNNIC's ban on individuals registering domain names, announced last month, drew angry responses from netizens.

Currently, only registered companies may apply for .cn domain names, meaning that many Chinese who wish to start Web sites simply buy overseas-based .com or .org addresses through an agent instead.

Rules 'out of date'

Web design specialist Zhang Zhengjun said that implementation of the proposed new rules would represent a real advance for the Chinese Internet, which many are saying more and more resembles a very large intranet, or closed network, under growing government curbs.

"If they really changed the system under which they were saying that only registered companies could get a domain name [then it would be important]," Zhang said.

While the ban was announced ostensibly as part of a drive to tackle pornography, it is seen by many netizens as an encroachment on personal freedoms of expression online.

"Those rules aren't really that conducive to new developments in the Internet," Zhang said.

"Now they are going to rewrite it to include a reference to individual domain name registrations. This will mean a better legal basis for the individual registration of domain names."

He said he believes the ban had little to do with limiting access to pornographic content.

Policy 'attacks freedoms'

Blogger and citizen journalist Zhou Shuguang, who writes under the pen-name "Zola," agreed.

"The thing about pornography is that it can be punished after the event. But freedom of expression can only be controlled by these sorts of methods, using methods that stop it from happening in the first place," Zhou said.

"This policy in reality is aimed at reducing the space for the freedom of speech."

He said the current perception of the .cn domain registration is that it is unreliable for people and companies with a brand to promote.

"Actually the .cn domain is ... controlled by other people ... It's very unreliable," Zhou said, citing the closure of popular blog site and the .cn domain Web site of the Gongmeng civil rights legal advice group.

"This puts control of your brand into the hands of others."

Anger over new rules

Chinese netizens have hit out at a new raft of proposed controls which will further concentrate control of the Internet in the hands of government-approved companies and agencies, saying they take away the right of ordinary citizens to make full use of the Internet.

In an open letter to the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), a group of Chinese Webmasters criticized the ban on individual registration of domain names in an open letter last month.

"To forbid individuals from registering domain names is, in effect, a stripping away of the right of citizens to access social and public resources," wrote a group known as the Chinese Web Masters' Rights Defender Alliance.

Currently, China has around 384 million Web users, but only 13.6 million .cn domain names.

Many of China’s Web users are disgruntled at the increasing failure of Internet circumvention tools to get around the Chinese government's 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 blocks and filters.

Original reporting in Mandarin by Wen Jian. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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