China will begin a fresh attempt to enforce real-name-only mobile phone use starting Feb. 1, according to the country's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.
Under regulations first issued in 2013, anyone signing a new phone contract or buying an SIM card must produce a valid identity document and their address and contact details, the ministry said in a statement earlier this month.
"When the operator of telecommunications business enters into the agreement with the user, the telecommunication service operator shall require the user to present a valid identity document," the regulations, which take effect on Wednesday, say.
Service users must also provide supplementary information to confirm their details, it said.
"Telecommunications companies shall not provide services to the unidentified or to those who refuse to provide verification of identity," the ministry said in a statement on its official website.
Similar restrictions will apply when someone sets up a phone contract for another person, it said.
The move is the latest in a series of attempts to ensure that nobody can access communications services in China without being easily traceable by the authorities.
Early attempts fail
Attempts to force pay-as-you-go SIM card customers to register using their real names began as early as 2010 in some parts of China, but weren't widely implemented because sales personnel allowed people to buy cards using other people's identities.
China also has a market for land-line users who top up their credit in advance, some of whom commented on social media that the crackdown has already begun.
"They suddenly cut off our fixed-line phone at home, which we've been topping up in advance for years by going to the local branch," one user posted on a Twitter-like Weibo platform on Tuesday.
"They said it was because there's a real-name system now, so I had to go back down there, otherwise they wouldn't switch it back on again ... complaining was no use."
Users of Chinese social media sites are already required to link their mobile phone numbers to their accounts, and only those verified are allowed to post messages.
The ministry currently estimates that upwards of 95 percent of phone users in China are now registered with their real names, and that this proportion will rise to 100 percent by the end of June.
Loopholes to close
Shenzhen-based rights activist Huang Meijuan said the new rules will likely close any remaining loopholes in the system, making life harder for activists and civil society groups who wish to remain free of official harassment.
"It's very clear that the government are setting up an information technology regime which will allow them to have total control over all of their citizens within China's borders," Huang said.
The ruling Chinese Communist Party has warned that terrorists, separatists, and extremists are using communications networks "to incite, plan, organize, and carry out violent terrorist activities, directly threatening the security of people’s lives and possessions, as well as social order."
It has also warned that "hostile foreign forces" could use such networks to try to subvert its rule.
Huang said the aim of exerting such control is to shore up the party's grip on power.
"Their aim ... is to try to consolidate what is a very shaky regime," Huang said. "Basically anyone who tells the truth about what is happening is accused of spreading rumors."
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.