10/23/2006, 00.00
CHINA
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Beijing plans to register 17 million Internet bloggers

The head of the government's Internet Society said making known the real identity of web users was an unavoidable choice. Legislators are currently assessing a proposal to ban the publication of opinions under pseudonyms.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – The government of Beijing plans to register millions of Chinese Internet bloggers who are using the web to publish their views under a pseudonym, thus forcing them to subscribe to censorship from the central authorities. This was reported today by the official state media.

Under the new system, currently being assessed by legislators, users would be allowed to continue using their online pseudonyms to write their blogs [virtual diaries – ed.], but must register with the authorities under their real names.

The real name requirement is an "unavoidable choice" if China wants to properly develop its blogging community, according to the head of the Internet Society of China, Huang Chengqing. The government official said: "There is need for balanced Web use, which should be free but responsible". The Internet Society of China is the state-controlled organisation in charge of developing the new monitoring system.

China has 17 million bloggers and more than 123 million Internet users. According to official estimates, this number will climb to 150 million by 2008.

Xinhua claimed that some bloggers "use their anonymity to disseminate irresponsible and untrue information: they are a bad influence on the people." However, the government also "acknowledges that the decision to register bloggers could create problems of privacy and free-speech concerns".

Human rights groups often criticise China for censoring web content it views as "dangerous", such as information on the nation's human rights record and on Western-style democracy. At the moment, it is forbidden to search for words like human rights, democracy, Taiwan and Dalai Lama.

Moreover, several of the world's top internet search engines have been slammed by the international community for submitting to Chinese censorship demands and for supplying Chinese authorities with personal data of users who turned to the web as a means of free expression.

Thanks to the help of Yahoo!, for example, the government was able to arrest several cyber-dissidents, including Li Zhi, who was condemned in 2003 to eights years' imprisonment for "fomenting subversion through the Internet."

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