Xinhua News Agency (which is controlled by the Chinese government) reports that China has started photographing and identifying users of Beijing’s Internet cafes. A customer will have her photo taken and then that “photo and a copy of her resident identity card [will be] sent to the Municipal Law Enforcement Agency of Beijing and placed in a file” in a city-wide database, says Xinhua News. The customer then is given a 4-digit identifier to be used whenever she logs into a computer in an Internet cafe.
“Currently, Internet users in most of China are required to simply show an ID card. Li Fei, an agency spokesman, says the new system is intended to keep different people from using the same card, an occasional tactic used by underage Internet surfers,” reports the Wall Street Journal.
The new photo, database, and unique identifier system will make it easier to track Chinese citizens’ surfing habits. It will also make it easier to connect a person with his online profile. It is likely that China will expand this registration system beyond Beijing, which would create an enormous database of online users. “There are more than 250 million internet users in China, approximately 10 times more than there were in 2000,” according to the Australian.
Ars Techica’s report gives details about the Internet policies in place during the recent Olympics.
China had originally promised that the Internet connection in parts of Beijing would be unrestricted in order for the press to be able to report on the games as they do elsewhere, although that ended up being not quite true. In the end, China agreed to lighten up its heavy filtering and censorship a little bit, but wouldn’t lift it all the way in the name of protecting citizens from “unhealthy” and unapproved online content.
This is just the latest in a string of disturbing restrictions against privacy and civil liberties in China. I previously blogged about: a massive surveillance system in China that is tracking and archiving TOM-Skype online messages that include politically important keywords such as “Falun” and “Tibet”; government censors who shut down any Web site that doesn’t toe the official line about a riot; the State Department’s warning to travelers about surveillance in China; general news about the country’s massive camera surveillance systems; and security and privacy problems connected with the RFID-enabled Olympics tickets.