A new nationwide policy will require mobile phone users who buy prepaid SIM cards to use their official identity cards and register with their real names from today. The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has been pushing for the move for five years. It said the new move would curb fraud. However, activists and online users are worried the new move, which coincided with the tightening of control over the internet - including a ban on individuals owning website domains and the closure of popular online communities - is aimed at curbing the flow of information and dissident views. Mobile users who already have prepaid SIM cards won't have to register immediately, but they will have to provide their real names and ID card numbers within the next three years, according to the new policy effective today. They will be encouraged to go to one of three telecommunications service provider (TSP) offices with their ID cards or call a customer service number and, in exchange, they will receive a benefit such as a fee waiver, according to The Beijing News. Customer service employees for the three TSPs - China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom - said they had not yet been notified about the incentive to register. However, unregistered SIM cards reportedly won't be revoked. Previously newspaper kiosks across China could sell both prepaid SIM cards and cards to add money to those accounts, but Beijing kiosks were notified that, for now, they could not sell SIM cards. Violators will be fined 5,000 yuan (HK$5,709). The mainland had 800 million cellphone users by the end of July, according to ministry figures, meaning roughly 60.5 mobile phones per 100 people. About 70 per cent of those users use prepaid SIM cards without having to register using their real names, according to statistics reported by Xinhua. Officials consider anonymous mobile accounts a problem, as spammers and scammers could easily buy temporary SIM cards and discard them. The authorities were also anxious that the spread of information, such as dissenting views, through telephone text messages would lead to social instability, activists said. Experts in the industry gave the new policy mixed reviews. 'Real-name registration will be effective in clamping down on illegal mobile phone use,' said Bruce Tang, a Beijing-based internet and mobile analyst. 'It will serve as a deterrent and rein in text messages that deal in rumours and scams. At least it will narrow crime suspects in police investigations. But [consumers'] privacy should be protected by the new regulations,' he added. Mao Shoulong , a professor of public administration at Renmin University, said the new policy might not be very useful in reducing fraud and scams, but 'it will certainly increase the risk of trading personal information for profit'. Hao Jinsong , a Beijing-based legal scholar, said it was naive to pin hopes of tackling fraud and scams on real-name registration. 'Law-breakers are crafty enough to get around it easily,' he said. 'The move is a violation of the freedom of communication authorised by law, like removing the envelopes of letters. It will lower the cost of surveillance on conversations and text content. 'Before they implemented this, authorities should have solicited opinions by holding a public hearing among consumers, TSPs and law experts.' He said the prerequisite of such a policy should be to protect personal information. Otherwise, no one could be held accountable for releasing any information. All Beijing newspaper booths have suspended selling prepaid SIM cards from today because the vendors lack verification equipment, said Zhao Yumei , office director of Beijing Newspaper and Periodicals Retailing. 'This will pave the way for new services, including mobile payments and 3G, that require real-name registration,' said Tang, the analyst. 'The real-name system is a national strategy, and mobile registration is part of it.'