China's bloggers must use real names under proposed law
Web users say contentious proposal is another attempt to curb freedom of speech and will scare those seeking to expose corrupt officials
New legislation governing the internet, which officials claim is aimed at combating online vigilantes and privacy breaches, is proving controversial on the mainland because it will require bloggers and bulletin board users to register using their real names.
Many internet users say it is an attempt to further curb freedom of speech and have expressed concern that it could scare off many wanting to expose corrupt officials.
A draft proposal to "strengthen protection of internet information ", discussed at a National People's Congress Standing Committee meeting on Monday, would oblige internet service providers to protect personal information and restrict the sending of spam text messages and e-mails.
Li Fei , deputy director of the NPC's Legislative Affairs Committee, told the meeting that because of "difficulty in getting evidence and punishing the right person" in cases of online crimes, "it's necessary to strengthen regulation of the identity of internet users", state media reported.
He was quoted as saying that people would be legally required to register with their real names when they signed up for platforms that released information, such as blogs, microblogs and bulletin board services. Such platforms have become a major source of anti-corruption exposés recently.
Microblog users were told to register their real identities by March this year in a bid to curb "rumours and vulgarity", but that was a directive rather than a law.
Official propaganda on the legislation has focused on online frauds and harassing phone calls, but more people are concerned about the basic human right of information freedom.
The proposal will became law if passed by the NPC Standing Committee. The whole text was not released after Monday's discussion.
Hua Lijia , a prosecutor in Huhehot, Inner Mongolia , said public supervision of government would be affected if the proposal was adopted.
"Many ordinary people are not good at fighting or cannot bear revenge, so they have to protect themselves first," he said.
Duan Xingyan , a policeman in Jiujiang , Jiangxi , said that if people circulated rumours online, it was already possible to trace them.
"But if you register with your real name and someone steals your account and spreads a rumour in your name, undeserved punishment could happen", he wrote on his microblog.
Professor Shen Kui , from Peking University's law school, questioned the legal reasoning behind the proposal.
He said that it was not technically necessary, since the police could already bust online crimes without requiring real name registration, for example, via a user's IP address, while it could frighten off many potential whistleblowers.
"When the negative social influence goes beyond the cost of busting crimes, the reasoning of this legislation is insufficient," Shen said.