China announces penalty points plan to curb abuse of internet

Regulator announces carrot-and-stick system for internet users, with analysts saying it will target commercial fraud and pornography

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 October, 2014, 6:03am
UPDATED : Monday, 27 October, 2014, 8:52pm

Mainland censors will track and penalise individual and group internet users for "illegal activity and dishonest behaviour" under a new centralised "credit" system.

Analysts said the system could be designed to crack down on pornography and online fraud.

Under the new system, users with good credit would be rewarded, while those amassing black marks would be penalised, People's Daily reported on its website yesterday, quoting State Internet Information Office director Lu Wei .

Lu announced the move at an internet security forum for lawyers, legal academics and judicial officials in Beijing on Friday, but did not say how the system would work or specify the kinds of violations.

One Beijing-based academic who attended the session said Lu's announcement about the system was brief.

"I think by 'illegal activities and dishonest behaviour' Lu was referring to all sorts of online activities deemed as illegal in judicial interpretations, from message fraud to online pornography," the academic said.

Hong Daode , a criminal law expert from China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing, said the proposed system was aimed at two types of internet users, those using the internet as a platform for fraud and those defaulting on payments to internet service providers.

"Dishonest behaviour, as a legal term, usually refers to commercial activities," Hong said.

"I think it's necessary to purge such [fraudulent] messages from the internet, especially from social media. They've almost become a part of our daily life."

Lu, the country's top internet censor, also said he would hire legal experts to act as consultants on the system.

Under Lu's leadership, the office has stepped up internet censorship to tackle "rumour mongering", with a number of influential and outspoken commentators silenced on social media. Among those to have personal accounts shut down are legal expert He Bing and internet celebrity Qin Huohuo .

Earlier this month, the Supreme People's Court ruled that internet service providers and social media platforms were obliged to provide the personal information of "rumour mongers" to help the authority trace them.

Rumour mongers are defined as sources of false online posts that are viewed more than 5,000 times or shared more than 500 times.

In July, mainland police detained microbloggers from Beijing and Shanghai who made up posts saying massive flight delays in Shanghai were due to the capture of a senior military official attempting to flee abroad.