China further tightens rules for domain name owners

Web sites must register with China's authorities with information including a photo of the owner

Web site owners in China will have to start submitting personal photos to register their sites with the government under new trial regulations, China's latest move in an Internet clampdown focused on porn.

The regulations, issued by China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, are part of an ongoing effort by the ministry to create records for all Web sites in the country. They come amid a wide-ranging campaign against online porn in which China has also shut down thousands of Web sites and suspended registration of new Internet domain names by individuals. The campaign has even had an effect outside of China, where companies that sell domain names have been blocked from offering domains that end with the .cn country code.

The new regulations, dated Feb. 8 but only posted on the Web sites of certain provincial telecom regulators starting Monday, require Internet service providers that help people register a Web site with authorities to meet the applicant in person and collect a personal photo. Applicants must also submit other information and a description of their site's content, including anything that needs "advance or special approval."

All Web sites are affected because China's IT ministry has said sites without government records will have their domain name resolution terminated by the end of September, essentially making them inaccessible. China's state-owned network operators have closed over 130,000 sites without records in recent weeks, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

The new regulations, which call for the face-to-face meetings to be in place by late March, order punishment for service providers that delay implementation or submit false materials from applicants. It was unclear if there were other channels through which a Web site owner could obtain a government record without a personal photo. Calls to the IT ministry went unanswered Tuesday afternoon. No one at China's domain name overseer, the China Internet Network Information Center, was immediately available to comment.

China's campaign to stamp out online porn could affect other online content too. Sensitive political content, such as negative discussion of high-ranking officials, has sometimes been hit by China's measures said to be aimed at "harmful information" such as porn and violence.

Even if the stricter regulation of domain name registration is aimed at controlling porn, it could also reduce the amount of malicious activity on .cn Web sites, which has historically been high.

China uses multiple means to control what people in the country can see on the Internet. Web sites such as Facebook and YouTube are blocked outright, and many other sites are expected to censor themselves. Companies that offer online blogging or similar services can be punished if they fail to erase sensitive content posted by users.

Authorities are also researching a "real-name system" for the Internet, according to Li Yizhong, the head of China's IT ministry. The term was an apparent reference to long-discussed plans to require Internet users to register their real identities before using public online services such as message boards, though Li also said the system was being researched for mobile phones.

"Currently, online information security faces severe challenges," Li said, in remarks posted to his ministry's Web site over the weekend. "Guaranteeing security is our first responsibility." Li's remarks were later removed from the site without explanation.

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Owen Fletcher

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