Saturday, August 16, 2014

China's Real Name Internet Part 4: State Media's Version of Global Internet Governance

One common theme in the People's Daily editorials was that, when it comes to Internet regulation, "everyone does it" - at least three front page editorials explicitly discussed Internet regulation in other countries. In addition, during this period, the People's Daily published a series of reports entitled "Every Country Oversees and Manages the Internet in Accordance with Law - A Comprehensive Analysis" (各国依法监管互联网面面观). Countries covered included:
Other than an obscure reference to an "indirect real name system" in Japan, however, the People's Daily's discussion of how other countries have addressed the concept of a real name Internet consisted solely of the following:

The fundamental value of the practice of "self-discipline" rests in promoting free expression and free flow of information on the Internet, and encouraging forms of dispute resolution with respect to controversial and assaulting online information. The idea of Canada implementing laws for online real name systems is to require the Internet industry to implement strict self-discipline.
Besides this, many government officials, including Mexican President Nieto, have already initiated discussions with ordinary Internet users about real name accounts for social web sites, guiding the public to set up a civilized online atmosphere. Currently some Mexican Senators and academics are strongly suggesting that the government should start moving social web sites to a real name system.
United States
In fact, in the United States, widely known for "freedom of speech," there exists calls from the public to implement a real name Internet system. Nowadays more and more mainstream media web sites are requiring Internet users to register before they can leave comments. In 2010, the gaming web site "Blizzard" began requiring users to use their real names to post on their forum.
. . . .
In addition to pleas by the public, the American government is also considering a plan for "online ID." In early 2011, the Obama administration proposed establishing a digital identification verification system, enabling American Internet users to send emails, register on social web sites, and conduct online purchases without having to input their user names and passwords, reducing the incidence of online crime, and increasing people's security while online.
. . . .
South Korea

In the past China's state-run media had turned to South Korea to build its argument that that China's Internet users should accept a real name Internet. For example, on August 13, 2009, the Guangming Daily published an editorial entitled "The Time is Ripe to Implement an Internet Real Name System" (实行网络实名制时机已经成熟). An excerpt:
Fang Binxing offered an example saying, in 2002 South Korea launched an Internet real name system in order to protect citizens' rights, reputations, and economic interests, and this allowed South Korea to become both one of the world's countries with the most thorough real name systems as well as one of the world's countries with the highest level of Internet security. More than that, the Internet real name system promoted the rapid development of South Korea's online banking and online commerce, and attracted a large amount of investment in online enterprises, further driving constant improvements in South Korea's online enterprises. Fang Binxing believes that this gives China excellent experience and an effective example of how to implement its own Internet real name system.
More recently, in December 2011, the Global Times published an editorial entitled "Weibo Regulations a Step on the Right Path." An excerpt:
The new regulations, in theory, are pertinent to solving weibo's urgent problems without harming its good effects. South Korea has already ordered real-name registration for the Internet.
 That same month, Xinhua also sought to reassure readers that this was "Common Practice":
China is not the only country to resort to real-name registration to monitor the Internet. The government of the Republic of Korea started to implement a real-name authentication system on its major websites in 2007 to prevent Internet violence, fraud or malicious information spreading.
In 2009, the system was expanded to cover all websites with daily visits of over 100,000.
But in the year after those editorials were written, the Constitutional Court of South Korea issued its decision in the application of Sohn et. al. unanimously holding that Korea's Internet real name systems were unconstitutional because "they infringe upon freedom of expression and autonomous control of personal data."

On August 24, 2012, the day after the South Korean court issued its decision, Xinhua and the China Daily published an editorial entitled "No Need to Be Overly Concerned About Korea Abolishing Its Real Name System" (不必对韩国取消实名制过分惊诧) by Wu Dingping (吴定平). That editorial stated that South Korea's system had been China's "reference model." It went on to say:
Why did Korea's love affair with its real name system come to an end? Fundamentally, there were no actual problems with the real name system, rather the main issue was that Korea had insufficient protections for personal privacy, and this led to significant pressure on, and resistance to, the real name system, and led ultimately to a fatal attack on it. Comparatively speaking, China has done a better job in this area.

On January 2, 2013, Xinhua published an editorial under the name "Shi Yi" (石一). Baidu's Baike has an entry for someone with that name - the CEO of Avazu Inc. - but its not clear whether thas person was in fact the editorial's author. The editorial was entitled "Users Registering With True Identification Information is Not the Same as South Korea's Real Name System" (用户真实身份信息注册与韩国实名制并非一回事). Some excerpts:
In order to safeguard the security of personal information, the Decision requires: "When entering into agreements or confirming the provision of services with users, network service providers who provide users network connection services, conduct network access procedures for fixed and mobile telephones, or who provide users with information issuing services shall require users to provide truthful identity information." The purpose of this legislative provision is to safeguard users' online information from being disclosed, falsified, or misused. However, some Internet users have compared it with South Korea's "online real name system," and believe that China should take as a warning the fact that "South Korea's online real name system has already failed." This author believes that this mischaracterizes and misunderstands the Decision, and that China's user real ID information registration information system has some fundamental differences with South Korea's "online real name system."
The editorial went on to discuss three problems experienced by South Korea's systems, and how China will avoid them:
  • In South Korea web sites were allowed to retain user's information, but in China "When a user is asked by a web site to carry out identification verification, the web site will redirect to a page on the verification agency's web site. The personal information that the user submits will be verified on the Internet ID verification platform, and not through the registering web site."
  • In South Korea the verification agency was a commercial organization, and laws and policies were perfunctorily enforced. In China, "the Internet Society of China will establish a unified Internet real ID information verification platform . . . . the Internet Society of China is non-profit industry organization, and is under the responsibility of the MIIT, and is subject to more oversight and management."
  • In South Korea the verification agency charged fees, and this influenced web sites' "enthusiasm." In China, web sites will not be charged fees.
The editorial went on to say: "It was precisely because of these systemic design inadequacies that Internet users' private information security could not be effectively guaranteed, and this was the basic reason why South Korea's 'online real name system' failed."

The editorial made no mention of the South Korean Constitutional Court August decision regarding South Korea's real name system, or that the explicitly said it was NOT going to rule on the privacy issue. The Court's decision stated:
Applicant Sohn et al. further assert that the mandatory verification of user identity restricts bulletin board user’s right to privacy as it obliges the user to disclose the personal data such as name,resident’s registration number, etc. However, we have already explained that the mandatory verification of user identity restricts user’s right to autonomous control of personal data, which is a concrete manifestation of the right to privacy. As we shall decide whether the restriction of user’s right to autonomous control of personal data amounts to infringement, there is no need for us to rule upon the alleged infringement of the right to privacy.
Instead, the Court said that "the focal issues of this case are whether the restrictions imposed by the mandatory verification of user identity are disproportionate and excessive."

Ultimately, the South Korean Constitutional Court found as follows:
We find that the mandatory verification of user identity stipulated in the provisions under review operates as prior restriction of freedom of expression. It discourages expression in general and thus restrains constitutionally protected speech and it hampers free formation of public opinion which is at the heart of democracy. The provisions under review impose excessive restrictions and infringe upon freedom of expression and autonomous control of personal data of Applicant Sohn et al. and upon freedom of press, etc. of Applicant Company.
An English translation of the Korean Court's decision by Professor Keechang Kim, Korea University Law School is available here: