China’s iron grip on the Internet is tightening, as its government considers further restrictions to keep “outsiders” on the outside. A draft law proposed by one of the nation’s technology regulators would require all websites in China to register their domains with both local service providers and with officials. Details around the proposed legislation are still unclear, and it’s not yet known whether the registration requirement would apply to all sites or only those hosted on Chinese servers.
If the draft law were to be implemented widely, however, it could potentially sound the death knell of some of the most popular and commonly used .com and .org addresses, making Chinese authorities the final arbiters and gatekeepers of the country’s own version of the Internet. Moreover, such a move would allow the Chinese government to more carefully keep tabs on users’ Web activity, and heighten its censorship capabilities. Already, the country imposes stringent restrictions on browsing capabilities thanks to the Great Firewall.
In an interview with the New York Times, Zhu Wei, deputy director of the Communications Law Research Center at the China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing, expressed concern regarding the wide-reaching implications of the draft legislation in its current form, noting that all foreign websites not registered with China might be blocked. “I think the draft mostly tries to address Internet security and the large amount of pornographic websites and other websites that violate Chinese laws,” he said. “Most of those domains are registered abroad. It is not easy to tackle them.”
That said, other experts believe that the rule would only apply to websites in China (though this would still give the government considerable power in terms of monitoring content). “I think these regulations are about content hosted in China,” Rogier Creemers, a lecturer on Chinese politics at Oxford University, told the Times. “It can be that they expand in the future.”
If you’d like to draw your own conclusions, the exact wording of the legislation reads as follows:
“Domain names engaging in network access within the borders shall have services provided by domestic domain name registration service bodies, and domestic domain name registration management bodies shall carry out operational management.
For domain names engaging in network access within the borders, but which are not managed by domestic domain name registration service bodies, Internet access service providers may not provide network access services.”
Regardless, it all looks to be a move towards further Web control. Says Lokman Tsui, a professor at the School of Journalism and Communication at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, the new law is “in line with the developments that have been going on for a while now, where the government is trying to exercise more supervision and control over the Internet, and on the domain name system in China.”