China May Require Web Users to Register Real Names, Xinhua Says

China, the world’s largest Internet market by users, may require by law that Web users provide their real identities when signing contracts with Internet service providers, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, which has the power to enact law, will this week decide on proposed legislation that would require Web users to register their real names to gain fixed-line and mobile Internet access, the news agency reported yesterday. The proposed legislation, once approved, would be the second China has passed on Internet management since 2000, when it passed a law on Web security maintenance, Xinhua said.

The proposal has sparked concern China is stepping up censorship efforts across various platforms, including microblogs such as Sina Corp.’s Twitter-like weibo service, said Zhan Jiang, a journalism professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University. The People’s Daily newspaper, published by the ruling Communist Party, has this past week featured front-page editorials calling for more regulation of the Web because people want the “chaotic Internet” controlled.

China, which censors the Web by blocking pornography, gambling and content critical of the ruling Communist Party, began requiring microblog users to register their real names at the start of this year. In April, police detained six microblog users for spreading rumors of a coup in Beijing and ordered Sina and Tencent Holdings Ltd. to suspend the comments function on their microblog services for three days.

“It is unreasonable to only restrict and not set up related laws to protect rights” relating to freedom of expression, Zhan said. The timing of this new legislation doesn’t necessarily hint at the attitude of the party’s new leadership on the Internet, he said.

Xi Jinping last month replaced Hu Jintao as head of the Communist Party and the military, putting him in line to also become China’s president in March 2012.

— With assistance by Aipeng Soo, and Lulu Chen

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