Friday, August 8, 2014

China's Real Name Internet Part 1: Ancient History - 2003 to Early 2012

A "real name registration" requirement for users of Internet services has been discussed in China for many years. Here is how a 2005 Xinhua report summed it up:
Discussion about a "real name system" also took place on the Internet at the end of the 1990's, but at that time it did not have much impact. What really had an impact and triggered controversy was a 2003 proposal by Tsinghua University professor Li Xiguang that the National People's Congress ban online anonymity and impose an Internet real name system. That affair was reported in the media and spread on the Internet, and gave rise to controversy. Although there was no lack of supporting opinions, it seemed that opposition voices were even stronger. Afterwards the media said that the "final word" was that Li Xiguang had raised the white flag because "a ban on online anonymity was extremely impractical, both from a legal and a technical perspective." With that it seemed this stage in the controversy drew to a close. 
But even with this temporary reprieve in the "Internet real name system" controversy, it nevertheless found expression in an even more practical operation. 
One year later, the "Internet real name system" was officially written into the Ministry of Eduction's "Opinion Regarding Further Strengthening Internet Management Work in Post-Secondary Schools": "BBSes on college campus networks  are platforms for information exchange amongst university Internet users, and shall strictly implement real name user registration system. In order to strengthen regulation and management of campus network BBSes, discover and delete all types of harmful information in a timely manner. Those who fail to effectively guard against harmful information will have a limited time to undertake rectification and reform, and those who allow harmful information to spread or who lose control over management shall be shut down in accordance with the law." Afterwards, Tsinghua University's Shuimu Qinghua BBS became the Ministry of Education's model for transforming university BBSes into real name system intra-university exchange platforms. After that, all college BBSes, including Beijing University's No-Name, Nanjing University's Little Lily, and Fudan University's Sun Moon Brilliance began to operate as real name systems. 

Shenzhen Public Security Takes a Shot at Real Name Registration

In July 2005, the Shenzhen Public Security Bureau issued a "Notice Regarding Launching Rectification and Purification of Public Information Service Venues" (关于开展网络公共信息服务场所清理整治工作的通知). The Notice said that as a result of illegal activities on chat rooms, forums, and Tencent's QQ groups such as "illegal associations and contacts," law enforcement authorities would be launching a three month, three stage program to "rectify and purify" these "public information service venues." The second stage would extend from July 16 through August 25, and would consist of the following:
Every enterprise shall organize sufficient employee resources and, using human and technical means, shall undertake purification of existing Public Information Service Venues, and based on the circumstances, shall either shut them down or undertake re-registration. All purification and rectification work shall be completed by August 25, and before September 1 a purification and rectification status report shall be provided to our offices.
1. All Public Information Service Venues shall be resolutely shut down that have any names, introductions, or notices that include harmful information clearly prohibited by law or that are suspected of being criminal or that are incompatible with the demands of building a civilization based on the socialist spirit. Enterprises shall also assist our office in investigating the status of relevant personnel.
2. Public Information Service Venues that are suspected of operating in the name of unauthorized social group shall suspend services and be required to provide proof within 20 days that their social group has been registered. Those that fail to provide effective proof by the deadline shall be shut down.
3. All other Public Information Service Venues shall register using their real names within sixty days, and those that fail to register by the deadline shall be shut down. 
The third stage would extend from September 1 through September 30, and included a requirement that venues implement a real name registration system for all newly-established Public Information Service Venues (落实新建网络公共信息服务场所实名登记制度). Specifically, venues were required to:
1. Inform all users applying for a Public Information Service Venue of the information service venue's terms of service.
2. Mandate the implementation of real name registration for anyone applying for a Public Information Service Venue. Require applicants to fill in a form with their actual personal identification information, and verify the identification number.
3. Prohibit users with overseas IPs from establishing Public Information Service Venues.

Hangzhou Takes a Shot at Real Name Registration

On April 9, 2009, The Standing Committee of the Hangzhou People's Congress enacted the Hangzhou Computer Information Network Security Protection Administration Provisions (杭州市计算机信息网络安全保护管理条例) requiring Internet users to use their real names when posting information online. Article 19 of the provisions provided:
Internet Information Providers shall establish and implement the following security safeguard systems and security safeguard technical measures: (3) Providers of electronic bulletin boards, Internet games, and other real time communication services must have the capability to examine and verify users' registration information and the information published by users, and must require users who registers for the aforementioned services to provide their official personal identification. 
The provisions were supposed to go into effect on May 1. On May 4 the China Daily published an editorial entitled "Web of Restrictions" saying:
Last week Hangzhou municipal government adopted regulations, which require Internet portals under its administration to ask for the real identity of Internet users who register to blog or post opinions online starting from Saturday. This has aroused strong opposition from Internet users. 
What most of them worry about is not just the inconvenience such an stipulation will bring about but the scenario that real name registration will make it possible for the relevant government department to know who has said what online about government decisions and leaders.
. . . .
Whatever the motivation for such a stipulation, the requirement to reveal real identity will undoubtedly prevent a number of users from expressing their opinions online for fear of being persecuted. This will substantially reduce the freedom Internet users enjoy in cyber space to express themselves on whatever issues they have an interest in. 
When we have no effective measures in place to protect Internet users from being persecuted for airing their views online, it is unfair to require them to reveal their real names for doing so. 
When the creation of a safer cyber space is most needed for Internet users to enjoy their freedom of expression, such a stipulation is clearly anachronistic.
A May 19 Xinhua report entitled "Why is Implementing a 'Real Name Internet System' So Hard? An Investigation Into Hangzhou's Implementation of the 'Internet Security Protection Provisions'" ("网络实名制"为何难?-杭州实施"网络安保条例"调查) made it clear that the provision had not been implemented:
Many website forum customer service employees told this reporter that the websites they worked for were not yet requiring users to provide valid personal identification. One forum customer service employee at Zhejiang Online said that he feared that real implementation would have to wait for a specific notice from the relevant agency. 

Ministries Responsible for Regulating Education, Internet, Online Publishing, and Online Video Establish Online Content Poster Tracking Databases

In 2004, the General Office of the Chinese Communist Party (中共中央办公厅) and the General Office of the State Council (国务院办公厅) jointly issued the "Opinion on Further Strengthening Internet Administration Work." (关于进一步加强互联网管理工作的意见 中办发[2004]32号). That document is not publicly available, but it is referenced in several government documents that use similar language to mandate IP address tracking for the Internet services under their respective jurisdictions:

Ministry of Education

In the last quarter of 2004, the Ministry of Education and the Communist Party Youth League jointly issued the "Opinion on Further Strengthening Network Administration Work on University Campuses" (关于进一步加强高等学校校园网络管理工作的意见). Some excerpts:
Online information is extremely complex. All kind of enemy forces use the Internet as an important tool for infiltration, incitement, and destruction, using all kinds of methods to spread capitalist class free speech and attack the Communist Party line policies, including forums, chat rooms, virtual communities, and posting comments on news articles. They utilize hot topics and sensitive issues, deliberately spread rumors, incite the public to discontent, damage normal social order, and spread obscenity and pornography, violence, feudal superstitions and other harmful information, and carry out online illegal activities.
. . . .
Establish IP address utilization information databases and intermediate responsibility systems for IP address assignment utilization in accordance with IP address administration measures. University campus BBSes are information exchange platforms for on-campus network users, and must implement strict real name registration systems for users. It is necessary to strengthen the regulation and management of campus network BBSes, and discover and delete all types of harmful information in a timely manner.
. . . .
General Administration of Press and Publication

In December 2004, the General Administration of Press and Publication published "Ten Focal Points for a Comprehensive Approach to Online Publishing in Accordance with the Spirit of the Communist Party Central Committee's 'Opinion on Further Strengthening Internet Administration Work'" (新闻出版总署传达中央《关于进一步加强互联网管理工作的意见》精神 十项重点工作贯通互联网出版全局). Some excerpts:
All Internet publishing enterprises must, based on the particular circumstances of this agency, strengthen their political consciousness, accept responsibility for safeguarding their respective areas of purview, and undertake self-examination and self-rectification in accordance with the spirit of the "Opinion." With respect to this agency specific work practices, form internal self-discipline mechanisms for online publishing enterprises, guide Internet users toward voluntary compliance with national laws, regulations, and relevant policies, actively publish healthy information, block harmful information and online abusive behaviors and low-class trends. Do not produce or transmit harmful information, and do not link to reactionary or pornographic web sites or web pages.
. . . .
Diligently purify and rectify Internet publishing organizations and strengthen management within your purview. All local GAPP offices shall coordinate with agencies responsible for Internet enterprises to undertake comprehensive purification and rectification of those Internet publishing enterprises that have already registered.  In accordance with local administration principles, establish basic information databases for domain name and IP address utilization for those Internet publishing enterprises that have already registered in your local jurisdiction, and formulate relevant administrative measures.
. . . .
Ministry of Information Industry

On February 28, 2005 the Ministry of Information Industry (which would later be renamed the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology) issued the "Measures for Administration of Non-Commercial Internet Information Service Registration" (非经营性互联网信息服务备案管理办法). Article 5 of the Measures provided that "anyone providing non-commercial Internet information services within the borders of the People's Republic of China must perform registration procedures in accordance with the law. Anyone who has not registered may not engage in non-commercial Internet information services within the borders of the People's Republic of China.
第五条 在中华人民共和国境内提供非经营性互联网信息服务,应当依法履行备案手续。 未经备案,不得在中华人民共和国境内从事非经营性互联网信息服务。

As part of the registration, web site operators were required to provide a "list of IP addresses" (IP地址列表).

State Administration for Radio, Film, and Television

In May 2005, the State Administration for Radio, Film, and Television issued the "Detailed Implementation Principles for the 'Opinion on Further Strengthening Internet Administration Work'" (《关于进一步加强互联网管理工作的意见》实施细则). Some excerpts:
Establish and perfect Internet web site IP address utilization databases. SARFT will continue to strengthen its coordination with the MIT, strive to achieve coordinated network interconnectivity and information sharing between the monitoring and oversight systems for online radio and television  programs and the CNNIC's national domain name database and IP address utilization database, and gradually establish an IP address utilization database suited to the needs of audio-visual program oversight and management.
. . . .
Establish monitoring and control systems for overseas harmful radio and television program web sites. SARFT is currently formulating the organization of the establishment of a technical project for a monitoring and control system for overseas harmful radio and television program web sites, and will determine who will be empowered to block overseas harmful radio and television programs in accordance with relevant work processes.
. . . .
建立境外有害广播电视节目网站监控系统。广电总局正在抓紧制定境外有害广播电视节目网站监控系统技术方案并组织建设,落实封堵境外有害广播电视节目网站的授权和相关工作程序 。

Hong Kong Media Reports China Will Impose a Real Name System on News Web Sites

On August 1, 2009, Hong Kong's Ta Kung Pao published an article entitled "Domestic News Websites Requiring Real Names to Post" (内地新闻网站要求实名发帖). An excerpt:
According to a Nanjing City Government official, on July 27 China's State Council Information Office issued a notice requiring all news web sites to eliminate functionality allowing anonymous commenting on news stories, and to implement real name registration systems such that visitors to news web sites must provide their real names and identification information, and may only comment or post on news events once it has been verified. 
On September 7, 2009, the New York Times carried a report on the Ta Kung Pao story, and went on to say:
But in early August, without notification of a change, news portals like Sina, Netease, Sohu and scores of other sites began asking unregistered users to sign in under their real names and identification numbers, said top editors at two of the major portals affected. A Sina staff member also confirmed the change. 
The editors said the sites were putting into effect a confidential directive issued in late July by the State Council Information Office, one of the main government bodies responsible for supervising the Internet in China.
On September 11, the International Herald Leader (published by Xinhua) published an article entitled "Is an Internet Real Name System Being Implemented After All? State Council Information Office Refutes 'New York Times' Report" (网络实名制悄然实行? 国新办否认《纽约时报》报道) . An excerpt:
On September 8 a reporter from the International Herald Leader asked the State Council Information Office to verify what was said in the [New York Times] article, and the SCIO staffer replied clearly saying that foreign media reports about an Internet real name system did not conform to the facts, "it is merely registration, not a real name system, this is standard international practice." This staffer went on to add that, when registering Internet users could use online names, and that this merely added a registration requirement in order to reduce individual users and groups from publishing irresponsible speech. 

Beijing Government Imposes Real Name Requirement

In December 16, 2011, when the Beijing People's Municipal Government Press Office, the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau, and the Beijing Municipal Internet Information Office issued the “Certain Provisions on the Administration of Micro-Blog Development” (北京市微博客发展管理若干规定) which included this provision:
Any organization or individual that registers a micro-blog account and produces, reproduces, publishes, or disseminates information content shall use real identity information, and shall not carry out registration by falsifying or replicating a resident’s identity information, business registration information, or organization code information. 
Websites that launch micro-blog services shall ensure that the authenticity of registered user information under the preceding paragraph. 
This real name requirement applied to all Beijing-based Internet companies, such as Baidu, Sina, and Sohu.

Cache showing 21st Century Report prior to deletion.
On December 29, 2011, the state-sponsored 21st Century Business Herald published a report entitled "Digging for Gold in the Weibo Real Name System: ID5 Breaking the Surface" (掘金微博实名制:国政通浮出水面). The report quoted an unnamed person at ID5 as saying:
We have already signed a contract with Sina, and are in close talks with Sohu, and besides weibo real name systems, we have already provided solutions for cell phones and games real name systems for the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.
The report went on to say that if all Chinese Internet users were subject to real name checks, the fees could be as much as 1 billion yuan (about 160 million dollars), and posed the question: "Why is a single private company, ID5, getting a monopoly on a market this huge?"

The article was deleted from the 21 Century's website, as well as from other websites where it was reposted. Original URL:

These screenshots were taken on January 3, 2012, and show that searches for ID5's name in Chinese - "Guozhengtong" (国政通) - on China's two largest microblogging platforms, Sina and Tencent, returned no results, just a notice saying search results cannot be displayed because they might be illegal.

On January 10, 2012, the state-sponsored China Business Times published an article entitled "Internet Real Name Systems are Worth Deliberating" (网络实名制值得商榷). An excerpt:
With respect to those who maliciously spread rumors and jeopardize public order, we believe that law enforcement authorities naturally have the means to track down people using clues and get to the source of the problem. If even this skill is lacking, then many major cases would never be cracked. 
Allowing Internet "anonymity" not only allows for a greater degree of protection of users' personal information and allows them to avoid harassment by harmful information, it allows those users who wish to expose scandalous events through the Internet but who fear becoming the targets of revenge a certain sense of safety. The facts prove that there is a high degree of authenticity to those who employ Internet "anonymity" to expose society's ugly side. Those who caused a sensation when they exposed the "hide the cat incident," the "Han Feng diary incident," and the "Tianjia cigarets official" did not use their real names. We must know that, as far as the powerless masses are concerned, it is a very dangerous move to use their real names to expose ugly events. Thus Internet real names systems will make many keep quiet out of fear. 
Furthermore, to implement a real name system in order to prevent Internet rumors and Internet violence is in fact to impose a kind of prior restraint system, which will have significant impact on citizens' freedom of speech, and this is not in keeping with the tide of the times. The result will not only be a failure to achieve the original intent, but also may lead to a stagnant and stale Internet ecosystem. Perhaps what the "uncivilized growth" of the Internet reflects is a society that is tolerant, free, and lively. 

On February 9, 2012, the Guangzhou Daily published an investigative report entitled "The Multi-Billion-Yuan Real Name Market to Be Split Between Only Two Companies, Payment Collection Called Non-Transparent" (实名制数亿元市场仅两家瓜分 被指收费不透明). Below is a partial translation.
Many people started paying attention when information about the Weibo real name system began making the rounds. The real name system is not only politically driven, it is also a market-driven project, and there is concern that the greatest beneficiaries of the Weibo real name system will be the ID verification services that get appointed by the government. Yesterday, this paper conducted an investigation of this issue, and currently there are only two organizations that stand ready to divide the multi-billion yuan pie that is the real name market, and the fee-collection standards are neither public nor transparent.
. . . .
One company is the National Citizen Identity Information Center, and its website states: This center was established on March 27, 2001, and is responsible for administering and operating the national citizen identification information system to provide national citizen identification information services to government departments and the public. 
The other company is ID5, and that company's website states that it was established in 2001, has a foundation in telecommunications networks and the Internet, and is supported by the national citizen identification information system and other authoritative third party data sources. It provides identification information verification and credit services such as identity information protection and anti-fraud to financial, telecommunications, government agencies, Internet, and individual customers. 
There is competition between these two companies, and public information shows that ID5 has become a contract developer for NCIIC. In addition to providing identification verification to third party websites, ID5 has also launched its own citizen identification verification service platform (ID5 Verification Platform), which is connected to the Ministry of Public Security's National Citizen Identification Information System (NCIIS), and which can confirm the authenticity of identification information by entering in an ID number and comparing it with the data in that system. 
Our understanding is that the fees collected by these two companies are about the same. As to whether the common operations of these two companies constitutes a monopoly, one industry insider said: that's hard to define, because by its very nature identity information is a monopoly. 
实名制数亿元市场仅两家瓜分 被指收费不透明 
. . . .

In May, 2012, Sina notified investors in a 20-F filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it had failed to implement the real name registration requirement:
Although we have made significant efforts to comply with the verification requirements, for reasons including existing user behavior, the nature of the microblogging product and the lack of clarity on specific implementation procedures, we have not been able to verify the identifies of all of the users who post content publicly on Weibo. We believe successful implementation of user identity verification needs to be done over a long period of time to ensure a positive user experience. However, we may not be able to control the timing of such action, and, if the Chinese government enforces compliance in the near term, such action may severely reduce Weibo user traffic. The implementation of user identity verification has deterred new users from completing their registration on Weibo and a significant portion of those who have provided identity information to us was rejected by the Chinese government database, which means that these users will have limited posting ability in the future and may cause the level of activity of Weibo users to decrease over time. Furthermore, while the Microblog Rules are not clear regarding the type and extent of punishment that will be imposed on non-compliant microblogging service providers, we are potentially liable for noncompliance of the Microblog Rules or related government requirements, which may result in future punishment, including the deactivation of certain features on Weibo, termination of Weibo operations or other punishments determined by the Chinese government.

Baidu Bans Anonymous Posting on Its PostBar Forums

On July 6, 2012, the following announcement appeared on the Baidu "Tieba Notice Board" -
[Notice] Say Goodbye to the Anonymous IP Party, Anonymous Posting Functionality on Tieba to be Taken Offline
To All Bar Friends:
Owing to the fact that currently utilization of anonymous posting to engage in malicious activities such as publishing fake ads and harmful information is running rampant, to the point where it is interfering with normal browsing and discussions between moderators and users, on July 12 Tieba will eliminate online anonymous posting, clean up Tieba's discussion environment, and safeguard the interests of the majority of the Great Bar's users.