Netizens could be forced to reveal names

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 May, 2009, 12:00am

Internet users in Hangzhou city will have to watch what they say online after the city government enacted a law requiring people to reveal their real identities when using chat rooms.

The regulation, passed by the provincial people's congress and put into effect yesterday, marks a new focus on controlling the people who use internet forums, if simply to post a comment about a blog.

The authorities are growing concerned over what they view as a spread of 'evil remarks' and personal attacks.

Internet providers, however, said the regulation was unclear and threatened their business, while netizens complained about the encroachment on their freedoms.

Under the law, internet users must use their real identification details when they sign up with forums, bulletin board services and blogs. Internet service providers are required to keep and check such records.

Online games are also included under the new regime.

People can be banned from the internet if they spread 'rumours' that disrupt social stability, disclose people's private information, make 'evil remarks' or stage personal attacks against others.

Internet companies that fail to comply face a fine of up to 15,000 yuan (HK$17,000) or could be ordered to close for up to six months. Individuals face fines ranging from 500 to 5,000 yuan.

Spokesmen for the Hangzhou government could not be reached for comment, but officials tasked with overseeing the internet said they were unaware of the rule.

'So far we haven't received any notice from higher authorities,' said an official from Hangzhou's internet security supervision office, which is controlled by the Public Security Bureau. 'So we haven't taken any action to enforce the rule.'

A forum administrator from the city's portal website www.hangzhou. also said the government had not informed them about it.

'It is business as usual. People don't need to register with real names,' said a woman who gave her surname as Chen. 'But I don't think this will be workable. Actually, such a move has been discussed for many years but has never been put into practice.'

She said people did not want to supply their real information fearing it would be either publicly disclosed or stolen. She also questioned how providers would distinguish what was a rumour and what was true. 'We would have to get complaints from people first,' she said. Ms Chen said the rule, if it was adopted, would hurt business. 'If we ask for people's real names, we'll lose a lot of users.'

Internet users have also launched a heated debate about the rule, with some saying it is too obscure and others criticising its restrictions on freedom of speech.

'I don't know how they define 'evil remarks' against people,' said one comment on 'Does it mean all criticism will be forbidden?' Another said: 'It's unbelievable. I think this is just the government tactics to ban people from supervising government officials.'