The Chinese government is widely-known for its strict regulations of the country’s national cyberspace. Cyber security is highly valued in China even if achieving it oftentimes requires certain measures which many might deem as excessive. Two years ago, the government of China introduced a law according to which, online platforms would be required to verify their user’s identity and also make sure that each user is registered with their real name. This, however, was not very practical and most online service providers adopted the practice of verifying the customers’ identity by asking for their mobile phone number as a verification during the registration process. Since each phone number is personally registered to a certain person, that would work the same as a real name identification. However, this was not the last of legal norms to tighten the security of the Chinese online space as recently, a new rule has been adopted which also requires the users to provide their real names whenever they post anything online. This includes but is not limited to online comments, posts, shares, streams and even messages in public chat rooms.
Even though, as we already mentioned, a lot of people (and countries), especially from the western part of the world, might see such strict regulations as undemocratic and violating the rights of men. However, in a world where technology and the Internet have become such an inseparable part of our everyday lives, certain measures should indeed be taken so as to ensure people’s safety when they go online. Of course, whether or not introducing such strict measures is the right way to go is up for a debate, yet the reasons to attempt to impose greater control for the sake of security in the online space are certainly there.
The main issues which lead to the introduction of the new legal norm were the distribution of illegal pornographic or violent materials, displaying o misleading and potentially harmful adverts, disclosure of personal and private data as well as spreading of any other form of illegal information throughout the cyberspace.
The introduction of the new regulation sparked criticism towards the Chinese government coming from western media, most notably, the USA. However, in an interview for Global Times, Shen Yi, a Chinese professor from the Cyberspace Research Center at the University of Fudan defended the new legal norm stating that despite the negative opinions expressed by the west, many European countries as well as the USA have also tightened the control over their sovereign online space in order to improve their virtual and national security. According to Shen Yi, national sovereignty should also apply to a country’s cyberspace which is why it is perfectly acceptable for a state’s government to introduce rules and regulations to help secure the said sovereignty.
Implementation of the new regulation
As we mentioned earlier in this article, when a requirement for personal identification was introduced in China two years ago, the service providers resorted to using the phone numbers of users as an alternative form of authentication. It is expected that in order to implement the current regulation, websites would once again use the “verify by phone” alternative as it is in many cases not technically practical (or possible) to use the personal name of the user as form of identification. Here, it is worth noting that even though not all service providers and websites followed the instructions from two years ago, this time, due to a law passed November last year, the Chinese authorities will have much more control and power over the online space of the country including the right to take down any sites that do not obey to the new regulations. Because of this, it is expected that this time the introduced rules will be followed much more strictly.