10/17/2008, 00.00
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Beijing, internet users photographed and profiled

A measure requires internet cafes in the capital to register their users. Government sources say that the intention is to prevent access to the web by minors, but in reality it seems to be a measure to monitor users and the sites they visit. Hopes for greater "post-Olympic" freedom disappointed.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Chinese authorities are cracking down on internet users: beginning in mid-December, internet cafes in Beijing will have to photograph their clients and verify that they are over the age of 18. The measure will concern the 14 main districts of the capital, where registering those who access the internet has been a common practice for years: according to the authorities, the provision is intended to prevent underage clients, but in reality is for monitoring "access to the internet and the pages visited" by web users.

Recently the "extra" freedom granted by the government to foreign journalists for the Olympics has been disappearing. They had been permitted to visit "prohibited" websites - some of which had been repeatedly blocked by Beijing, like Amnesty International, portals for information about Tibet, and AsiaNews itself - and to travel more freely around the country, without needing written authorization. But these privileges had only been granted to the foreign press, and never to Chinese journalists.

The hope for a new "post-Olympic" era disappeared - shortly after the beginning of the media circus connected to the Games - with the government's decision to reintroduce the Great Firewall of China, a system for monitoring and blocking access to sites considered unlawful, subversive, or against public order, together with the blocking of certain key words in search engines.

Under the new rules, internet uses will have to be "photographed" and will be required to show an "identification document" before being allowed to access internet stations. All of the information collected will be compiled by the authorities in a database that will be periodically updated by officials appointed for "control of morality" and "respect for the law."

At the moment, there are no reactions or comments on Chinese websites or blogs, a network composed of more than 250 million users, more than 10 times greater than in 2000. According to a survey conducted by the website for the official newspaper of the communist party, the People's Daily, "72 percent of respondents were opposed to the measure, calling it an infringement of their rights," while for 26 percent, it "would benefit children."

Sophie Richardson of Human Rights Watch Asia says that preserving some of the relaxations enacted for the Olympics, and extending them to Chinese journalists, would be "one of the most important legacies of the Games."

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